You probably already have a resume, and you probably already know you’re supposed to write a cover letter. More often than not, people assume the cover letter is just a formality—so they just throw something together and just hit send. But the thing is, your cover letter is part of a whole package and it should feel that way. In other words, your resume and cover letter need to complement each other in order for you to present a cohesive version of yourself.
In the end, you want the hiring manager to want to learn more about you because she’s intrigued, not because she’s confused. So, how do you do that? Here are four tweaks that’ll get you on the right track.
1. Connect the Dots
While you should definitely tailor your resume, it doesn’t necessarily involve spelling out how your experience relates to the position. Tailoring a cover letter does. That’s the main difference for these two documents that both, essentially, describe your relevant experience: Your resume outlines what you can do in general, while your cover letter explains what you can do for the company.
One way to ensure that your cover letter is connecting the dots between you and the company or role is by reading your cover letter and asking yourself, “Why did I choose to write about these experiences?” See if your reasoning is written out in the cover letter. Never just assume the reader will get it.
For example, instead of just describing an event that you planned, organized, and facilitated, also explain that this experience makes you particularly well prepared to handle the responsibilities of the, say, events assistant role because it illustrates your detail-oriented nature, exposure to large-scale event planning, and ability to negotiate with vendors.
2. Give Context to Your Resume
Resumes can be frustrating because it can be tricky to tell a cohesive story about a particular work experience in bullet points. Here’s where cover letters can really save the day. While you definitely don’t want to repeat your resume bullets verbatim, you can cover some of the same accomplishments, but with context. Fill in the gaps.
Stakeholders in a project, tight deadlines, unrealistic budgets, or unexpected obstacles are all fair game in a cover letter. In fact, this in the perfect place to be telling the whole story. You’re trying to paint a picture. Ideally, the hiring manager will be able to visualize you doing work so relevant that he or she could just pluck you out of that setting, place you into the open position, and watch you take off running.
3. Answer the Obvious Questions
When a resume raises questions, the first place a hiring manager is going to look to get these questions answered is the cover letter. This is why you want to be thinking about these two documents as flip sides of a coin, not independent documents. Some questions might be, “Why is this experienced nurse applying to this marketing position?” or “Why is this New Yorker interested in our little company in Oklahoma?”
If you’re thinking of changing careers or perhaps moving to a new state to be with your aging parents, address the reasons in your cover letter. Even if it’s not quite as drastic as a career change and more of a career shift, it’s still worth mentioning. Note that I said, “mentioning.” Don’t go overboard and tell your life story. Stay focused on your relevant experiences, but also offer up quick explanations for anything that might be confusing about your application.
4. Present a Visually Cohesive Package
Finally, it’s time for my favorite step in any job application: Make it pretty. One straightforward way to present a cohesive package is to make your resume and cover letter look like they belong together.
This means using the same header for your name and address for both documents and being consistent about the font and font size. That’s it! This simple step shows attention to detail and makes your resume and cover letter, when presented together, so much more visually appealing.
Writing a cover letter for your resume requires a bit of extra care, but the result is a stronger, more impactful job application and ultimately worth it. The extra attention won’t go unnoticed for long.
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