It’s a common sentiment among job seekers to dread writing cover letters. When faced with job postings that require a cover letter, many of us pause, seek guidance online, and wonder why companies still ask for them when our resumes and online profiles seem sufficient. Cover letters can feel outdated, unnecessary, and at times, frustrating.

However, as one progresses in their career, the relevance of cover letters becomes apparent. So, what are hiring managers truly looking for in these documents? To find out, one could turn to social media for insights. Surprisingly, many hiring managers express their fondness for cover letters. Some find them invaluable in understanding the candidate beyond the resume, especially for younger or transitioning professionals. A well-crafted cover letter can bridge the gap and showcase what an applicant brings to the table.

Given this newfound perspective, it begs the question: what specific elements should a cover letter contain to capture the attention of hiring managers? To shed light on this, industry experts offer their insights to help job seekers navigate the cover letter conundrum and secure that coveted interview.

Meet the Experts:

  • Sarah Doody is a career strategist and founder of Career Strategy Lab™, aiding UX professionals in securing roles without overwhelming applications.
  • Arika L. Pierce is a leadership development expert, CEO of Piercing Strategies, and author of I Can. I Will. Watch Me: How to Not Be Overlooked, Underpaid or Undervalued,
  • Amy Feind Reeves is the Founder and CEO of JobCoachAmy, leveraging her executive experience to assist professionals in finding fulfilling jobs at any career stage.
In this article
1 Do Hiring Managers Actually Read Cover Letters?
2 What Are the Top Three Things Hiring Managers Look for in a Cover Letter?
3 How Long Should a Cover Letter Be and How Should It Be Structured?
4 What’s the Number One Thing You Should Do To Make Your Cover Letter Stand Out to Hiring Managers?

Starting with the experts’ opinions on the importance of cover letters:

Do Hiring Managers Actually Read Cover Letters?

Sarah Doody: Cover letter readers vary, so it’s vital not to dismiss them entirely. A well-crafted cover letter may be the key to getting noticed. Crafting a base letter that can be adjusted for different roles saves time and could be the difference between getting an interview or not.

Arika L. Pierce: Despite receiving numerous applications, cover letters can set you apart, offering insights not found in a resume. They serve as a platform to express what you bring to the table beyond your professional history.

Amy Feind Reeves: Inclusion of job-specific keywords, articulating your interest in the role and the company, and showcasing your professional writing skills can elevate the impact of your application. A cover letter is an opportunity to stand out and showcase your suitability for the position.

Moving on to the essential elements candidates should focus on when composing their cover letters:

What Are the Top Three Things Hiring Managers Look for in a Cover Letter?

Sarah Doody: Tailoring your cover letter to each role is crucial. Avoid generic content and focus on showcasing why you are an ideal candidate. Ensure your pitch, evidence, and examples align with the job requirements.

  • Customization: Personalize each cover letter to demonstrate your interest and understanding of the role.
  • A solid pitch: Present a compelling case for your candidacy in the opening lines.
  • Evidence and examples: Support your claims with specific examples of past achievements.

Arika L. Pierce: Emphasize your unique value proposition and future contributions to the role.

Amy Feind Reeves: Clearly articulate your understanding of the job, connect your skills to the role’s requirements, and express your genuine interest in the position.

After outlining the critical content, let’s delve into the preferred length and structure of cover letters:

How Long Should a Cover Letter Be and How Should It Be Structured?

Sarah Doody: Limit your cover letter to one page, organized into sections: introduction, evidence, and a compelling call to action to engage the reader further.

Arika L. Pierce: Keep it concise, utilizing formatting to highlight key points. Aim for a one-page, impactful document.

Amy Feind Reeves: Focus on quality over quantity with ample white space to enhance readability. Highlight your most relevant skills and align them with the job requirements. Tailor your letter to showcase your fit for the role and the company.

To culminate, the experts advise on the key strategy to make your cover letter shine:

What’s the Number One Thing You Should Do To Make Your Cover Letter Stand Out to Hiring Managers?

Sarah Doody: Craft a cover letter that quickly demonstrates your qualifications and why you’re the perfect match. Customization and avoidance of generic versions can help differentiate your application.

Arika L. Pierce: Integrate job-specific keywords and consider innovative ways, such as personalized messages, to make a memorable impression.

Amy Feind Reeves: Keep your cover letter concise and focused on your fit for the role. Highlight your genuine interest in the position and company to make a lasting impact.

As evident from the insights shared, cover letters play a critical role in job applications, offering a personalized touch that can significantly influence your chances of securing an interview. By investing time and effort in crafting compelling cover letters, you elevate your candidacy and stand out in a competitive job market.


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