One of the most common requests we get at Vocate is advice on writing cover letters. Although our platform makes cover letters unnecessary (and in recent times cover letters have become much less important), we want to provide career seekers with all of the support they need on their career journey.
When should you use a cover letter? Generally you would only include one with your resume when explicitly asked for one. However, you could use this same general structure when formulating an email introduction or in networking outreach as part of your job search.
1. Follow a 3-part structure
Much like writing an essay, a cover letter is argumentative. You need to convince the employer to consider you as a candidate. In the short space you have, you essentially need to answer these 3 questions:
- 1. What are you applying for / why are you interested? (2-3 lines)
Ex: “I am applying for the role Marketing Assistant at Acme co…” / “This opportunity caught my attention because…”
- 2. Who are you and how has your education and/or work experience prepared you for this role? (about 6 lines)
Ex: “My professional marketing experience includes blog content creation and SEO.” / “My Communication degree gave me a foundation for both PR and Marketing.”
- 3. Why are you a good candidate? (2-3 lines)
Ex: “I believe I would thrive in this role and contribute to the growth of traffic and the active user base for Acme products.”
2. Keep it to half a page (ca. 300 words) – at most!
Being concise is a real challenge, especially when you are answering the major, open-ended questions above. Every word and sentence needs to contribute to convincing the reader of your value. Employers will skim cover letters (and resumes!) – any extra length will be missed and distract from the key information you want them to catch.
3. Do your research
The cover letter (or email with an attached resume) is the personal link between the potential employer and your general resume. For specific jobs you want a shot at, you should adjust your resume to align with the needs of the given role, but this is the main purpose of the cover letter. In a few sentences, you need to tell the employer why you should be considered, and this includes illustrating that you understand the company, its industry and the type of candidate they need to thrive as a business.
Whether or not you need to write a cover letter, it offers a valuable takeaway. It’s about concisely creating your story. Who are you? How did you become who you are? Where do you fit and why? As an elevator pitch, when chatting at a networking event, or in the actual job interview, being able to succinctly and thoughtfully tell your story will help you be remembered and respected as a candidate.