Cover Letter Optional? Sure, But Including One Can Give You a Big Advantage

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by Chris Durst Aug. 16, 2018

As you complete online application forms, you may find a field marked “Cover Letter (optional)”. Most applicants will see the word “optional” and buzz right by that field.

Now, you could leave the field blank too, but do you really want the hiring manager to see you like “most applicants”?

While you may not relish the idea of writing a cover letter, it really can set you apart from the other applicants!

How a Cover Letter Can Help You Land the Job You Want

First Impressions
Right off the top, taking the time to write a job-specific cover letter will show the hiring manager (HM) that you are very interested in the job and will go the extra mile to ensure you are considered. Immediately, the HM will get the impression that you are willing to go the extra distance to accomplish the task and isn’t that exactly the impression you want to make?

Showcasing Your Personality
Let’s face it, even if you’ve had a really exciting work history, resumes are generally pretty boring and rarely give the HM a sense of who you are. Your cover letter is a chance to give the reader a glimpse into your personality, so be sure to use your real voice to help them “see” who you are and not just what you can do.

For example, look at this example of a typical resume “objective” statement stacks up against this snippet from a cover letter:

Objective on resume: “Obtain a customer service position which will allow use of good people skills and reliable work ethic”

Cover letter: “As someone who derives great personal satisfaction from serving as the ‘bridge’ between merchants and their customers, I am completely committed to creating a great client experience from every interaction – even if the contact was initiated by a less than happy customer. Over the years, I have been able to turn quite a few “unhappy campers” into return customers, and to ensure many happy customers hung up the phone with a smile on their face.”

Just be sure the language you choose reflects your personality and, if you have a great example, be sure to include it:

“In a previous position, I had a call from a man who was extremely upset about receiving a product that had a missing part. He had spoken with a coworker of mine previously and had hung up on her in frustration. When he called back, I did what my colleague had not done effectively – I listened. I knew he was agitated and that feeling like he was being heard might help to diffuse that a bit. I heard him out and assured him that I completely understood his frustration as I would have felt the same. Then, with the situation calmed, we were able to work together to resolve the matter to his satisfaction. The call ended with him saying, ‘please tell the other lady I’m sorry I hung up on her, but she wasn’t listening to me’.”

Filling in the Gaps

Many people have gaps in their resumes. Some have been raising children or caring for aging or ill family members, others have retired and are returning to the workplace, and in the case of Military Spouses, the constant moves can leave a resume looking like Swiss cheese. Whatever the reason, job seekers with gaps in their resume often worry about how to explain them. The cover letter is the perfect place to do that.

I recently received an email from a woman who explained to me, “I have done many sales jobs but am retired now. I am very good at sales and customer service. My problem is I have no resume. For the past 16 years, I have been managing our home and done extensive traveling.”

I suggested that she:

1. Write a resume and, where the post-retirement gap appears, add “World Traveler” as a job title.

2. Craft a great cover letter to include something like:

“Don’t let the gap in my work history fool you! For the past X years, I have traveled extensively and immersed myself in the different cultures of the US and countries around the world. Through these experiences, I have interacted with people from all walks of life and, in turn, I’ve built upon my already strong communication skills.”

7 Cover Letter Tips

1. Keep your cover letter brief. One page with no more than five paragraphs is ideal.

2. Make it targeted to the specific job you are applying for. Focus on the information that will make you an ideal fit for THIS job. (It’s okay to have a “boilerplate” cover letter that you can edit to make it job/company specific. This can help to streamline the writing process if you are applying for jobs that are a lot alike.)

3. EDIT! You’re better off with no cover letter than one that’s filled with typos and grammatical errors. If you have a friend with a good eye for editing, run it by them as well.

4. It’s NOT about what the company can do for YOU, it’s about what you can do for the company. I have seen far too many cover letters that start off with something like, “This position is ideal for me since I have to be home to take my children off the bus and to be there when they have school breaks.”

While the HM might empathize with your situation, they may also be thinking about how well you’re really going to be able to focus on your work.

The purpose of your cover letter is to sell yourself to them by telling them what you can do for them, not the other way around.

5. Don’t apologize for your perceived skill gaps. “I don’t have all of the skills you are asking for, but I am a fast learner…” Don’t go there.

Focus instead on what you DO have. “Few things in life can prepare one for dealing with unruly people like handling a room full of toddlers. My experience as a day care provider has equipped me with the skills and attitude to deal with even the most difficult to please customers.”

6. Spend a few minutes looking at the company website. Understanding the culture of the company can help you write in a tone that will resonate with them.

7. Bragging is okay. If you have to, just pretend you are writing about someone else. 🙂

That’s it! I encourage you to take the time to sit down and draft a template cover letter that you can edit for each position you apply for. Best of luck to you in your search for the perfect work from home job.

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