Job-seeking can be a harrowing experience with unexpected blows and jabs. It’s not always something people talk about, but the job-seeking process—especially in competitive fields— is demanding and requires a baseline understanding of what employers search for and how to represent that on paper. The buck doesn’t always stop with the resume, it extends outward to what is now commonly met with derision and uncertainty: the cover letter. If you’re stuck on how to write a cover letter, unlocking its history and evolution can help you find the right approach.
While there is no clear source and no defined requirements for the cover letter, it is ubiquitous for landing certain kinds of jobs. So what is it? Is it an addendum? A performance? An adornment? And what exactly is its value?
Let’s dive in.
The Contents of the Much-derided Cover Letter
Cover letters are interesting components of job applications. They are crucial, but not exactly defined. They are requirements, but not always the deciding factor. They are an opportunity to stand out but can also potentially trip up a suitable job applicant.
According to The Atlantic, Da Vinci’s contribution to society reaches much further than the breath-taking Mona Lisa and historic Last Supper. The multi-talented visionary also ‘invented’ the CV when he applied for a job many a century ago from the Duke of Milan. And there it begins.
According to that same article, the cover letter was born around the 1930s, when white-collar jobs were on the rise and employers needed more of a personal statement from prospective employees. The service industry was growing and manufacturing jobs were waning. The service industry thus required a more personalized hiring system that delved deeper into personality and strengths as compared to the specific job at hand.
The First Cover Letter for “Dutch Boy Paints”
It was not until 1956, that the rise of the cover letter became more prominent when applying for employment. Early employment ads published in local papers began asking for cover letters. One of the first ones cited is an ad for Dutch Boy Paints, which asks “submit a resume with a cover letter.” Just like that, it snuck into the job application process.
By 1965, the cover letter had gained some headway and seemed relatively mainstream for most job applications. Despite the many decades of cover letter writing, there is yet to be a definitive source or clear origin for what employers actually expect to find in the letter. And so today, the cover letter is still widely asked for but not always highly valued by all employers.
And that’s one of the trickiest things to navigate. Today’s job seekers face a competitive and saturated candidate pool. Applicants don’t want to spend time on something that may not enhance their application.
Are Employers Actually Reading My Cover Letter?
The answer is, some of them. Statistics show that some employers find value in them and some not so much. Some will skip right to the resume and others will use the cover letter as a way to gauge whether the resume is even worth a look.
But the cover letter is evolving in today’s fast-paced job market. Different industries see them differently. Some indicate that the cover letter today is more of a way to let your true voice shine in an application. That is, something a little less formal and more conversational and down-to-earth that shows employers who you really are. For more formal applications, the cover letter should match that in tone, showing professionalism, originality, and unique skill sets.
What Should My Cover Letter Contain?
So now we come to the question everyone wants to know. The answer is, it depends. There is no single way to compose a letter and different formats and tones have varying degrees of effectiveness for different industries. The underlying consensus, however, seems to be that the cover letter is to go beyond what’s in your resume. That is, to enhance the information contained in your work history and fill in some of the gaps that might not be obvious from listing previous job duties. It is an opportunity to catch the attention of a hiring manager by emphasizing or shining light on something unique about your qualifications.
Nevertheless, here are a few tips to consider and the foundational structure for a solid letter:
- Make sure to include your contact information. Depending on the format, you may want to do it in block format at the top of the letter.
- Salutation and hiring manager’s name. If you do not have the information of the specific hiring manager, you can address the company by name.
- Research and get a sense of the company culture. Many young start-ups, tech companies, or forward-thinking employers are looking for creative people that have unique skills and even a multi-versed repertoire of experience so their company website and social media conveys the kind of people they search for. Match the tone in your letter.
The Structure of a Typical Cover Letter
A quick Google search will lead you to hundreds of examples and templates of cover letters. The right approach, however, will usually consider the industry you’re applying to, the company, the type of job, and your unique skills. While each letter can vary, a typical structure will look like this:
- Opening paragraph: The opening paragraph discusses the position you are applying for and where you found the position. It’s also a great opportunity to introduce the tone of your letter and be energetic.
- Middle paragraph: The middle paragraph can serve as a summary of skills. Here is the tricky part: don’t simply restate what is already in your resume. You want to focus on a unique experience, a unique skill, or something that might make you stand out from other applicants.
- Second middle paragraph: Depending on the length you are going for and the type of job, some letters will want to have a section that focuses on what might be typically called ‘soft skills.’ Highlight the unique traits that make you qualified. Through examples and detail, you can convey unique qualifications.
- Closing. If the hiring manager gets this far, this is a good sign. The closing is an opportunity to end in the right tone, to show your commitment and enthusiasm for the position.
A Staffing Agency Can Help You Find the Job You Need
That’s why we’re here. We facilitate your job search in different ways. If you’re getting out there and searching for the next opportunity, a hiring agency can help you overcome some of the initial difficulties of applying.
Learn more about how we can help you find a job in El Paso. Many of the city’s burgeoning industries are now hiring. Call us today.