If you thought that cover letters were optional, no one could blame you. From mass media to online guides, there are numerous educational sources about writing the perfect resume, but many of these sources fail to express the importance of a cover letter. A great cover letter should express your enthusiasm for the role, your work ethic, and other unique qualities that make you an ideal candidate. Having worked in the IT staffing industry for more than two decades, serial entrepreneur John Goullet offers his insight on developing a successful cover letter.
Resumes are meant to showcase skill sets and experience; a resume that stands out will typically land you an interview. A cover letter, on the other hand, communicates to an employer why they should choose you for the job.
1. Personalize your cover letter.
One of the biggest mistakes you could make while putting together a cover letter is copying and pasting the same generic message to each company you apply for. Most hiring managers will recognize a copy and pasted cover letter from a mile away. John Goullet suggests researching the company you’re applying for so you can personalize your cover letter. For instance, learning the name of the hiring manager and/or expressing your knowledge of the company culture will help your cover letter (and subsequently your resume) stand out.
2. Keep it brief.
If you’re planning out a five-page cover letter, you’re likely going about it the wrong way. Hiring managers generally have to sort through piles of resumes. It would behoove you not to make them work any harder than they have to. Cover letters are simply a short sales pitch to convince a hiring manager to look at your resume.
Self-aggrandizing yourself for five pages will only result in your resume finding its way into the trash bin. An effective cover letter is short and to the point. Use polite language to explain why you’re the best person for the job, and highlight your strengths by using examples of problems you’ve solved for past employers. Remember, the point of a cover letter is to get an employer to look at your resume, not to tell your life story.
3. Keep colors and graphics to a minimum.
Fancy graphics and bright color schemes generally fail to make your cover letter more attractive (unless you’re applying for a graphic design job). Adding too many design choices, in fact, could distract from what really matters – the words on the page. John Goullet recommends that you put less effort into the design of the page itself and focus more on writing a concise, effective cover letter.
4. Include all of your contact information.
Specifics are crucial when writing a cover letter. Don’t forget to include your email address, city, phone number, and state. It would also help if you were specific about the actual position you’re applying for. One of the most embarrassing mistakes you can make is adding information from a copy and pasted template and forgetting to update the information on the page.
5. Demonstrate that you’re a problem solver.
Simply stating that you’re a problem solver isn’t enough to win over a skeptical hiring manager. In fact, it could turn some people off from your resume outright. Don’t just state that you’re a problem solver. Show it by explaining how you’ve solved similar issues in the past. It would be even better if you already knew some of the problems that you could solve with your skill sets. Then, present a plan for how you would go about solving these problems.
6. Be honest.
There’s a time and place to exaggerate your skills. Your cover page isn’t one of them. Honesty is always the best policy because what you say in your cover letter may come up during an interview later. For instance, exaggerating your ability to build an enterprise-level database from the ground up will likely come up during an interview. If you’re prone to embellishing the truth, a hiring manager will probably sniff it out, and your chances of getting the job will be slim to none.
7. Include statistics.
Want a surefire way to impress a potential employer? Include a few stats to back up your claims. Simply stating that you did this or that may sound impressive, but it doesn’t actually prove anything. By adding statistics, you can prove without a shadow of a doubt that you have the ability to solve problems, making you that much more attractive to a hiring manager.
8. End with a Call to Action (CTA).
By the end of your cover letter, you need to prompt the hiring manager to take action on what they just read, giving them a reason to contact you. Your CTA needs to convey your excitement about the position and your willingness to come in for an interview. Keep your CTA open ended, and use polite language. You’d be surprised by how many opportunities people fail to take advantage of because they didn’t include a call to action. Don’t make the same mistake.
Diversant Chairman John Goullet
Former CEO of Information Technologies John Goullet has more than two decades of experience in the IT staffing industry. Throughout his career, John Goullet has analyzed thousands of cover letters, giving him unique insight into identifying what works and what doesn’t. With his ability to identify emerging technological trends, Goullet grew Information Technologies to $30 million in just five years after its founding.
John Goullet’s next big step involved partnering with Gene Waddy to cofound Diversant, the largest African American-owned IT staffing firm in the United States. With Goullet serving as chairman and Gene heading the company as president, Diversant continues to grow at a healthy pace.
Putting Your Best Foot Forward
A well-crafted cover letter can truly set you apart from other job applicants. The rules of writing a successful cover letter aren’t set in stone, however; each company you apply for may have any number of requirements that may call for a unique approach. But it will still be helpful to keep these best practices in mind the next time you’re applying for a new position.