The Mid-Career GPS Podcast

189: Are Cover Letters Still Important?

October 03, 2023 John Neral Season 3
The Mid-Career GPS Podcast
189: Are Cover Letters Still Important?
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Ever wondered why your job applications are getting overlooked? Chances are, it's your cover letter—or lack thereof—that's holding you back. This episode is all about turning the daunting task of crafting a cover letter into an exciting opportunity to tell your story better. You'll learn the ins and outs of writing effective cover letters, from understanding your industry and audience to creating a compelling career narrative.

Consider this episode your career GPS, guiding you through the complex job application process. While known to stress many, we make it simple and straightforward. We'll cover everything from the importance of a strong header to the power of personalization and the art of closing your letter in a way that grabs a hiring manager's attention. With tips from our exclusive three-paragraph format, you'll be able to streamline your cover letter writing process and enhance your chances of success. So, ready to start your next career journey with confidence? Tune in to learn, grow, and conquer the job market.

Read my blog post here to learn my simple three-paragraph format for writing your next cover letter. 

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Speaker 1:

Hey there. If you are getting ready to make a job change or a career transition, I know you don't want to make a mistake. It's why I created my free guide Five Mistakes Mid-Career Professionals Make and Need to Stop Doing. These five mistakes you must avoid are pivotal in helping you navigate toward whatever is next for you and your career. You can get my free guide by visiting my website at johnnarrowcom. You can check the show notes or check the featured section on my LinkedIn to download your free copy today and let me help you start building your mid-career GPS right now. Are cover letters really necessary when submitting a job application in today's market? This causes a lot of stress for job applicants and I'm often asked whether or not they're really worth doing so. In this episode, I'll share with you my pros and cons for writing a cover letter in today's job marketplace and when you should always write one. It's probably not what you think. Plus, I'll give you an easy to follow three-paragraph format for writing your next cover letter and the one thing you can do when closing your cover letter that will absolutely grab your hiring manager's interest and attention. Let's get started. Hello, my friends, this is episode 189 of the Mid-Career GPS podcast. I'm your host, John Narrell. I help mid-career professionals who feel stuck, undervalued and underutilized show up to find a job they love, or love the job they have, using my proven four-step formula. Today's conversation comes after several conversations I've had with my coaching clients, as well as others I've interacted with on LinkedIn, about how much writing a cover letter is stressing them out. So I'm going to walk through the purposes of a cover letter and how to write one in this episode, but, more importantly, I'm hoping I can take some of the pressure off of you and clear up some of the mind drama. So there are some fundamental strategies behind a cover letter. First and foremost, you will always write a cover letter when it is required in the job application process. Some companies today still place a strong emphasis on cover letters as part of their hiring process. We see this particularly in creative industries, nonprofit. Even some levels of government still require it, and there are some companies like techs and startups that may not require them at all. It's important for you to know your industry and where you're applying and where they potentially see the benefit in having a cover letter as part of the job application process. Also, you need to consider what level of job you're applying to. Typically, higher level positions and roles, especially for mid-career professionals, require demonstration of strong communication skills, and one way to assess that is within a cover letter, whereas entry level positions may not require one, but the cover letter can absolutely help you stand out in a competitive field when your cover letter is interesting and, most importantly, memorable. Additionally, you will want to write a cover letter when you're networking. So, for example, if you have a networking connection that's willing to put your name in for a potential job at their company, having a cover letter to give them, whether or not they actually submit that cover letter as well on your behalf. What it's important here is that it gives them information about you and your background they may not know and, more importantly, it may actually help them tighten up some of their talking points when they advocate for why you should be interviewed. I'm often asked if it's necessary to submit a cover letter when it's optional. We'll say that it's optional in a job posting or job description in the hiring process and they're like well, do I really need to do it? I strongly believe it is always, always in your best interest when it is optional, to submit that cover letter. Think about the message it's giving. It's optional, you don't have to do it, but are you willing to take that extra step because this job is important to you? Now there are times when you will not write a cover letter, specifically if the job posting doesn't require it and there's no place for you to upload it. I would strongly discourage, in my experience, that you attach, say, your cover letter in front of your resume because there's only one place for you to upload it into that application system on the company's website. To me, I think that's a little extra. You want to make sure you are complying and giving the company exactly what they need and want and not going overboard or giving extra. Say that for the interview. Lastly, you will always, in my opinion and in my experience, write a cover letter for yourself to help you tell your story better. That means, even if you never submit a cover letter as part of your job application to a particular company, you will have that cover letter written for yourself to help you highlight something memorable in your career, why you've been effective, where you stand out Most importantly, why you believe you are the best candidate for this position. Research shows over and over again that when we take time to actually process our thoughts through writing whether it be pen to paper or even typing it that we reinforce the messages we are trying to communicate. I have said on this podcast repeatedly you must own your story 100%. Another way to do that is by writing a cover letter that you believe accurately reflects why you're the best candidate for the job. Now, how do you write that cover letter? Well, I believe that a cover letter should be simple, straightforward and memorable. Here's how you do that. You're going to begin your cover letter with a header. Typically, if you are uploading, say, a Word document into your application process, this would just be like as if you were mailing it. It's got a header. It's going to include your contact information at the top of the page. It should include your name, your phone number, your email address and a hyperlink to your LinkedIn profile. I believe it's in your best interest to also include the date that you're writing the letter. When it comes to who you address the letter to, this has changed over the years. You may be able, either in the job posting or through Google or LinkedIn, find the name of the hiring manager for this position. It may be a little bit of an extra step for you, but it definitely scores you points. If you cannot find somebody specifically, or if you're working with a recruiter and you're addressing this cover letter to them, a generic salutation such as dear hiring manager, is most appropriate in this situation. Avoid, dear sir slash, madam, avoid to whom it may concern. Those are not appropriate in today's marketplace. We want to keep it very generic in terms of dear hiring manager. In terms of a three paragraph structure, your first paragraph should absolutely begin by stating the position you're applying for, how you learned about it and why you are interested in that role and company. Notice that the emphasis here is you're interested in the role and the company. That means you've got to make it about them. There is something about this company that stands out for you and why you're applying. So that first paragraph and I follow a rule, paragraphs are typically five to seven sentences you want to make it about them. The second paragraph needs to be about you and specifically in this paragraph, you're going to highlight a specific qualification, skill or experience that is relevant to the job. You want to make sure that you tailor the information in this paragraph specifically to the job requirements, focusing on your achievements and the results you've obtained. Now, this can be something that's already in your resume, but in a cover letter, we're highlighting it very specifically because you believe it's important. And, additionally, I want you to take this one step further and explain why your experiences have prepared you for this new position you are excited to apply to. You want to make sure you use keywords from the job posting. Keep this paragraph very tight and concise. In a cover letter, more is not always a good thing. You've got to get to the point, Just like when people review your resumes and they only take a few seconds to make a judgment about it. If you're submitting a cover letter, the same holds true. That cover letter needs to grab their attention as quickly as possible Now, in this paragraph as well, because you're highlighting how your experiences have prepared you for this position. This is a great opportunity to talk about why you believe you're a great fit for the organization. When it comes to that final or closing paragraph, here's what I strongly encourage you to do Express your enthusiasm for the opportunity, your desire to move forward and learn more about the position. I'm a firm believer that it's a good idea to have somebody else review this. We have talked on the podcast before about keeping your communication clear and clean. Additionally, here we want to make sure we take out any kind of neediness or grasping this that may make you come across as being overly convincing that they should interview you. That can be a huge turnoff. I always say show up from a place of value and service. You're excited about the position. How can you help them because of your experiences, the value that you're going to bring In that closing paragraph? Mention your interest in getting that interview and thank the person specifically, in this case the hiring manager, for considering your application. That is one way to approach the closing paragraph, but I want to offer you something different, See. I believe that when we write a cover letter, that closing paragraph is vital, and what better way to show up than in a way to help them? What you're doing here is you're helping them make a decision, perhaps a little more quickly, as of what you may write in this closing paragraph. That's something like this. Given my background and experience, I'm looking forward to learning more about this opportunity as insert job title at Insert Company and learning more about moving forward in this process. While I don't know your specific timeline for hiring, I'm wondering if you would be interested in having an initial call in the next couple of weeks for us to discuss my candidacy and interest in this position. It is a bold move and you have to decide for yourself how boldly you want to play this, but I've seen this happen repeatedly. At a statement like that in that closing paragraph does help them make a decision, because what are they most used to seeing. Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to hearing from you. I look forward to hearing more about this opportunity. It's all the stuff they hear over and over again. You're going to jar the process a little bit here. You're going to change it up. You're so interested. You're like, hey, is it possible we may have an introductory call within the next couple of weeks? You are not saying you're going to call and follow up with them. That's not appropriate in this case. But you are planning a seed about how interested you are. Additionally, for another piece of consideration, in creating that urgency, if they really like you, they're really interested in what they've seen in your cover letter and resume, they may want to move a little more quickly with you because they're afraid of losing you as a qualified candidate. So definitely some things to consider. But, to recap here, when you're writing a cover letter, you will always write one when it's required. You will always write one when it's optional. You will not write one when it isn't required, and you will always write a cover letter for yourself to help you tell your story. In terms of actually writing the cover letter, address it to Dear Hiring Manager. The first paragraph states your interest in the position and why you are excited about applying for this particular role at this company. The second paragraph is going to highlight your qualification, skills and experiences that are of particular value, that demonstrate why those experiences have prepared you to be successful in this position. Then the third paragraph is how you close. How you close it by expressing your enthusiasm for the opportunity, to desire to learn more, as well as whether or not you want to specifically ask if they'd be open for an initial conversation within the next couple of weeks, or simply say I'm interested in an interview and I look forward to hearing from you. Thank you for considering your application. Now there's one thing I'm going to leave you with before we go Please, please, please make sure you proofread and you have someone else proofread your cover letter. So a big shout out to my dear friend, Captain Redpen. He is the editor of both of my books. Rich Lucy, I know you will appreciate this very, very much, but proofreading is key. When you're writing a cover letter, you are particularly too close to it. Spell check on word is it's okay. I particularly like grammarly. I find it really helpful, but that is pale in comparison to having another human being whom you trust and value Take a look at that cover letter because this job is important to you, and proofreading it and giving you some ideas about your tone, your direction, your punctuation, your spelling, anything like that that is key. And additionally, you will know that when you go to click submit that you've had somebody else take a look at it and you feel even more confident about how qualified you are as a candidate as you create your next advancement opportunity. My friends, I hope this cleared up some information about why and when we write a cover letter. I wish you all the best in your job search, as you create your next advancement opportunity and you continually build your mid-career GPS to whatever is next. Until next time, my friends, remember this we build our mid-career GPS's one mile or one step at a time and how we show up matters. Make it a great rest of your day. Thank you for listening to the Mid-Career GPS podcast. Make sure to follow on your favorite listening platform and, if you have a moment, I'd love to hear your comments on Apple Podcast. Visit JohnNarrowcom for more information about how I can help you build your mid-career GPS or how I can help you in your organization with your next workshop or public speaking event. Don't forget to connect with me on LinkedIn and follow me on social at JohnNarrowCoaching. I look forward to being back with you next week. Until then, take care and remember how we show up matters.

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