6 Tips for Writing a Strong Cover Letter


By:   |   Updated: 2016-07-27   |   Comments   |   Related: More > Professional Development Resume

Problem

A frequent topic we get questions on is cover letters. Job seekers have asked us ďWhat are your thoughts on cover letters? Are they still a requirement? Are they well-received? Do people read them? What should I write in a cover letter? Should I write one? Will it help me?Ē Well, letís discuss some best practices on cover letters then!

Solution

Both of our responses to the questions around if theyíre necessary and/or well-received are this: A very well-written cover letter thatís concise, communicates your interest, and highlights your key qualities relative to the role youíre applying for, will be positively received by most! Cover letters, however, are not required.

Here are a few best practices to consider when crafting a cover letter:

1. A generic, non-personalized cover letter can be worse than no cover letter at all.

I recently read a LinkedIn post from one of our Managers commenting on how he dreads reading nondescript, blanket cover letters that donít really communicate anything important. We couldnít agree more! Take the time to customize any cover letter you send for that particular role and company. Going above and beyond, even on something as small as a cover letter, can go a long way for your overall image!

2. Communicate your most relevant qualifications.

Review the list of requirements, and provide highlights about your experience and skill set that address those. If the position asks for 5 years of SQL Server development, a Bachelors degree and custom development, briefly address your experience in each of those areas in the letter.

3. Demonstrate interest and excitement about the position.

As we mentioned in our Interview Coaching for SQL Server Professionals webcast, one of the main reasons qualified candidates donít get selected for a role is a ďperceived lack of interestĒ on the part of the candidate. With that in mind, explicitly share why youíre excited about pursuing the role in question!

4. Address any red flags/concerns.

We recommend applying for positions where you meet 80% or more of the requirements. Keep in mind this is our general rule of thumb, and it differs depending on the Manager and Company. If you are missing a skill/technology/version, the cover letter is a great place to address that gap. Consider highlighting any training youíve completed that is relevant, along with your desire to learn. If you want to really go above and beyond, communicate what your ĎTraining Planí would be to increase your knowledge in that area in the cover letter and/or via the interview.

For example, if you donít have experience with SSRS and the position is asking for it, you can explain in your cover letter that ďAt this point in my career, I havenít had the opportunity to work professionally with SSRS. However, Iíve taken 4 courses via Pluralsight on SSRS, attended a few user group meetings on the topic, and Iím eager to get an opportunity to work hands-on with it!Ē

Review your resume/experience and see if any other potential concerns jump out, such as large gaps, a lot of short contracts, etc. and then assess whether you should address those, and how to do so, in the letter.

5. Include examples of work.

Include examples of work, online profiles, recommendations, technical screening results you have, or any other aspects that could demonstrate your credibility. Do you have strong recommendations on your LinkedIn profile? Code samples on your GitHub profile? Articles/publications youíve written for a community like MSSQLTips? Videos youíve done that are on YouTube? Other examples of work on your personal website? We recommend adding the URL where they can see examples of your work, or anything else that demonstrates your credibility, not only to your resume, but also to your cover letter.

6. Effective formatting.

Just as you donít want a resume full of long blocks of text that are hard to digest for the reader, you donít want a lengthy and hard to digest cover letter either. Consider bullet points where appropriate, such as highlighting your relevant experience. Youíll also want to review your letter and cut out any fluff or redundancies so itís a concise product.

Next Steps

Consider the above best practices when drafting cover letters during your next job search, and think of your letter as your 15-30 second customized professional elevator pitch for that role.

Here is an example cover letter for a SQL Server Development position involving custom development in a large-scale environment, working with SSRS, SQL Server 2014, and SSIS, where the description references this is a leadership/mentorship role and theyíll be upgrading to SQL Server 2016 by the end of the year.

 

To Whom It May Concern,

Iíve attached my resume for your Senior SQL Server Developer role. Iím excited to pursue this opportunity, which aligns with my background and career interests! Some relevant qualifications per your requirements:

  • Led multiple teams, sized 3-8, and enjoyed the rewards of mentoring and developing others
  • Supported multiple enterprise environments, including one financial services organization that had 200+ servers
  • Done a mixture of out-of-the-box and custom development, although I prefer custom
  • 18 months of SQL Server 2014 experience, with 8 years overall database development with SQL Server
  • Bachelors in Computer Science and MCSA SQL 2012 Certification

While I donít have experience with SSIS, Iíve worked with DTS packages and Iíd be happy to complete a few hours of training on SSIS on my own time.

I have several endorsements of my work, including clients, managers and peers Iíve mentored, available via my LinkedIn profile at www.linkedin.com/johnsmithsqldev.

I look forward to hopefully interviewing for this great opportunity!
John Smith

About the author
Cate Murray is responsible for managing the nationally-based talent acquisition strategies of the Apex Systems PMO and Business Analysis Practice.


Last Updated: 2016-07-27


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About the author
MSSQLTips author Erica Woods Erica Woods has nearly a decade in the IT staffing world, an MBA, and is a member of the Professional Association of Resume Writers and Career Coaches.

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