Before e-mail, it was customary to send a resume to recruiting managers through the post. Attached to the cover page, the candidate would write a brief description explaining why they were the best candidate for the position. Over time, this gradually became known as the “cover letter.” For the most part, we no longer send resumes through the mail, the cover letter tradition has persisted. From Fast and Focused Resume Service, here’s everything you need to know about writing cover letters:

What’s in a Cover Letter?

A cover letter is similar to an elevator pitch in that both should be succinct and well-composed. The main purpose of this document is not to convince the hiring manager that you’re the best candidate for the job – your resume should do that – but to get your reader to read your resume with full attention. Here are a few things every cover letter should include:

  • Your contact information, the date, and the address and title of the potential employer
  • The name and position number (if given) of the position you are applying for, and how you heard about it
  • Three or four accomplishments drawn from your resume that demonstrate why you’re the best candidate for the job
  • A thank you note to conclude

What Not to Include in a Cover Letter

Although there are several details that make up a great cover letter, there are certain things that are better left out. Here are a few examples of things you should never include in a cover letter:

  • Personal information about your family, friends, or life at home
  • Qualifications or experience irrelevant to the position for which you’re applying
  • Questions about salary, benefits, or vacation pay
  • A long-winded explanation about why you want the job (short and concise is always better)
  • Information about why you left your last position

When Do I Need a Cover Letter?

To write or not to write a cover letter is a concern that seems to plague many individuals applying for new jobs. Your best bet? Write one. Some employers rarely read them, while others don’t consider resumes without them. Your safest bet is to include one, every time. Even if the employer doesn’t read it, it will show that you put in the effort.

How Do I Present My Cover Letter?

The way you send your cover letter depends on the position you’re applying for. If you’re applying online, it’s usually wise to copy and paste the cover letter onto the front page of the resume document. (But take care to set it up as a separate section or it may throw off the page numbers on your resume.) If you’re applying via e-mail, attach both cover letter and resume as Word documents (unless another format is requested.)  Don’t paste the cover letter in the email. Instead, write a short note saying something like “Attached please find my application for position x with your organization” followed by your usual sign off.