Applying for jobs/cover letters: Part 1

I’m thinking a lot about cover letters this week as the students in my class have just submitted their first drafts of a cover letter applying for the specific job of their choice. I ask them to submit the job ad as well, because it’s important to tailor each letter of application to the specific requirements of the job being sought.

In my book, TIP 39 Learn to write good cover letters contains some basic information about how to approach the unpleasant and difficult task of producing a cover letter, and I have supplemented the tip with an appendix (Appendix I Creating a letter of application). The information I provide shows how to prepare a letter in appropriate business letter format, makes suggestions for what to include and how long the letter should be, gives a checklist to help review the letter before you mail it, and lets you look at some models to get ideas for your own letter.

However, there are a few instances when a cover letter is either inappropriate or not possible. Today, many organizations require that you submit your application completely online, and they may not offer an option for uploading a standard cover letter. Other organizations may ask you to submit your resume via email or ask you to complete your application using an online form.

What this means is that you have to read the job description and the application instructions very carefully. Some employers will specifically say “No cover letters.” If they say that, don’t send one! However, if they ask you to email the resume, you can take the body of your cover letter and send it as the email message, with the resume attached.

Just this week, in reviewing one of the assignments submitted for my class, I saw an online application that did not allow for a cover letter, but it did have a field on the application form labeled “Why should we hire you for this job?” That field can be used to provide the type of information you would normally put in your cover letter.

Over the next few entries, I’ll talk in more detail about some of the do’s and don’ts of writing cover letters. As with resumes, you can find lots and lots of advice online, but much of it is contradictory. I will try to sort some of that out based on my own experience and the knowledge I’ve gained working with dozens of career professionals and local employers.