As you fill out an online job application you might feel like something is missing. Aha — did you include a cover letter? The application might ask you to upload only your résumé or — even worse — say a cover letter is “optional.” When applying online, what should you do?
When in doubt, include a cover letter, says April Klimkiewicz, owner of Bliss Evolution career counseling. “If you don’t include a cover letter and you have key information that lets an employer know that you’re a good fit, you’re at a disadvantage,” Klimkiewicz says. “If you don’t include one and they don’t expect one, you’re at a disadvantage. If you do include one and they don’t want one, you’ve put in a little effort for something that doesn’t get looked at, but you’ve put yourself at the greatest advantage.”
Here’s how to write an effective cover letter for an online job application.
Résumés are about skills and accomplishments, while cover letters help connect the dots between the you — the human being — and the résumé, Klimkiewicz says. Your cover letter gives you a chance to show how your personality and values are similar to the organization’s culture, so even if they don’t ask for one, take the chance to show you fit.
“Think about what the organization is about — not just the job, but the organization,” Klimkiewicz says. “What are the mission and goals they have?” Research the company’s culture, values and mission to get an idea for some of the concepts they value. The answers will help you find common ground with your own experiences and values.
Rather than simply list your skills or past responsibilities as bullet points, use the examples that show how you fit in the organization to tell a couple of stories from past work, Klimkiewicz says. “The hiring manager already has your résumé and all the things you can do,” she says.
Instead, use the cover letter to pull out one or two of those projects so they can see how you went about it and what the outcome was, Klimkiewicz says. Set the scene with the problem or challenge you were facing, describe how you approached it and the resources you used, and what the result was. For example, you may say you were tasked with raising sales of a certain product, so you undertook a new social media marketing campaign and achieved 15 percent growth in one quarter.
Too often people write flowery cover letters in language they wouldn’t usually use — and that’s a mistake, Klimkiewicz says. While a cover letter is a formal business document, you can still show professional enthusiasm without using awkward jargon that doesn’t reflect the way you usually write or speak, she says. “It’s important that you’re not only trying to be who they want, but be who you are. The right fit is out there for you, and sharing who you are is the most important part of the application process.”
At the same time, Klimkiewicz recommends you avoid oversharing personal details unless they’re relevant to your job search. For example, if you live in Florida and are applying for a job in California, it’s appropriate to indicate information such as that you’re on a national job search or that something personal is bringing you to the West Coast.
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