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Main Content

Cover Letters Revisited in a Digital Job Market

By Ralph Haas

In this age of proliferating applicant tracking systems, automated job posting systems, and company career pages, the cover letter seems to be going out of style somehow. And yet, while it is often true that computers (and some recruiters) don’t read cover letters these days, it is also true that sometimes living, breathing humans—and even a few hiring managers—still do.  So if you keep writing them, and one of them gets read (thereby having a positive impact on your candidacy for the job), then the extra effort was more than justified.

A few thoughts:

  • Be sure to use the language, syntax, and key words of the job posting in the cover letter, just as you would in the resume. When cover letters are uploaded into resume management systems, they, too, are often scanned for key words. The voice of cover letter is not your resume “in other words”; it is in “their” words.
  • After you have submitted your credentials through appropriate web-based channels, consider printing the resume and cover letter on high quality white paper and send it to an actual human being via snail mail. Your cover letter can refer to the fact that you have—as asked—submitted your resume via appropriate channels, but you hoped that this additional follow-up would underscore your interest in the position.
  • Limit the letter to one page, leaving plenty of white space. Use columns, indented bullet points, or other formatting strategies to increase the readability of the page.
  • Make every effort to avoid starting every sentence with the word “I.”  Although the purpose of the letter is to promote you, there are limits to any reader’s tolerance for narcissism.

  • Use this opportunity to let the reader know that you’ve read up on the company beforehand, by including early on a sentence or two that describes some of the company’s recent initiatives or a note on its performance. The best way to adhere to the suggestion above—talking less about yourself—is to talk about them instead.
  • Include a header with your name and contact info at the top of the letter. Call that section your “letterhead.” Copy that section into a new Word file, and use that as the header for all correspondence, including your thank you letters, to give your written materials a better sense of cohesiveness (much like a corporate identity).   
  • Finally, after you’ve drafted the letter, set it aside, at least for several hours. Then proof, re-write, and edit carefully, or, better yet, ask a friend or family member to proof it for you. One thing that certainly hasn’t changed with the new technologies? Typos and grammatical errors will still get you eliminated every time.
  • While it is certainly true that the odds of your cover letter being read are decreasing with the introduction of newer technologies, the ultimate mathematical equation of job search still trumps all others: It only takes one. If that one cover letter gets you in the door, what do you care what the odds were?