USAA Tips: How a great cover letter helps in the job search

Content provided courtesy of USAA.

By Chad Storlie

Even experienced career changers can quake at the thought of putting a new cover letter together. Resumes tend to be straightforward documents, but the cover letter can be a difficult document to complete or even start writing. Cover letters must be concise, specific to the job position, and illustrate attractive qualities about you.

Follow these tips to create an outstanding cover letter for your career search:

  • Understand Your Audience. Executives and HR hiring managers are busy and often times simply glance at resumes and cover letters from candidates. This is valuable information to understand because it shapes your writing style as direct, employs quantitative achievements, follows an organized layout, and lists the greatest achievements first. In addition, executives have become “Smartphone” readers where they expect the most essential information first and often quickly scan a document.

  • Address the Cover Letter to a Specific Person. A cover letter should be addressed to a specific person(s) in the department that you are applying and not to the Human Resources (HR) department. The research required to address the cover letter to the person and department that has the opening is a sure sign you have done your research and you understand the structure of a company. This simple attention to detail is a wonderful way to start a great cover letter.

  • Follow the Color Scheme of Your Resume with a Professional Picture. Modern resume layouts often employ a vertical color bar about 2” wide that contains your picture, education, publications, conference presentations, and other layouts. Use the same layout concept from your resume so that the resume and the cover letter together create a branded package in appearance and content of who you are and what you have to offer. It’s is OK to use the vertical color bar on your cover letter to repeat some of the critical information from your resume such as education, industry experience, publications, and the like.

  • Use a Layout that is Quickly Readable & Emphasizes Critical Skills. The greatest and most difficult rule is that cover letters should be only one page. This is very hard. However, a one-page cover letter respects the time of the audience reading your document. In addition, consider the use of tables and other creative methods to organize information that delivers great content in an easily understood manner and that can be quickly scanned and read. In addition, a layout of this format is unique so it guarantees that others will read it.

  • Include Some Personal Information to Make You Stand Out. Sharing volunteer information, a passion project, recognition from senior business or government individuals, or other unique information is necessary. The entire point of a cover letter is to make your contributions and experience stand out from the “pack” or other applicants. The more ways you discover to do this the better.

  • Include a Link to the Cover Letter & Resume for On-Line Sharing. In your cover letter, create links to your resume and your cover letter that allow easy sharing of both documents. Understand that hiring efforts are consensus driven decisions even for very junior positions within a company. Make it easy for others to find and share your cover letter and resume with others in their team. If you have a portfolio, a link to your portfolio can also be included to help pull the decision in your favor.

The cover letter is a one-page document that highlights your skills, interests, and abilities to make a significant difference to a company. Use the cover letter to generate interest and confidence in your ability to make an immediate difference in a new career.