Resume Help/Letter of Interest
I've been reading a lot about whether to include a letter of interest with the job applications I am sending out. Some employers want them, some don't and some make it optional. What I've read seems to indicate that employers don't take these seriously anymore or even read them at all. What do you think? Also, what kinds of things should I say in a letter like this?
These are both very good questions and are issues that a lot of job applicants struggle with to some degree.
As to your first question, my research of employers indicates to me that most of them want to see a letter and they do read them. There are a minority of employers who take a different point of view and are less reliant on letters than in the past. My best advice to you on submitting is that you need to follow the directions in the job announcement very carefully. If they ask for it, give it to them. If they don't mention it or make it optional, I would still send a cover letter. It is possible that it may not be read, but if you don't include it you are missing at least the opportunity to sell yourself with a brief narrative that uses specific language and examples which indicate why you are the best candidate.
The mistake a lot of applicants make is that they try to put far too much information in the resume when they fail to include a letter. This is an invitation to reject your application almost immediately. The reason is that the resume is supposed to be a very brief snapshot of your qualifications, not an extended narrative on everything you have done. The narrative belongs in the cover letter. If your resume is too long or dense with text, it will almost certainly be rejected. No one is going to take the time (when they have several hundred applications) to wade through a resume that is too daunting to get through in a few seconds.
The reason most employers still want a letter is two-fold: first, it gives them an idea of how well you communicate the written word. So many individuals (particularly twenty-somethings who have grown up in the digital age) do written communication almost exclusively via tweets, text messages, or email. The employer wants to see if you can actually write in complete sentences with correct grammar, syntax, and spelling. This skill - employers tell me - is one of the most neglected by newly-minted job applicants. The second reason they want to have a letter is that they are giving you an opportunity to tell them why you are their dream candidate. And that takes me to your second question.
The cover letter (or letter of interest) has three parts: the first paragraph should tell them why you are writing (which job you are applying for, the job number if there is one given, etc); the last paragraph reiterates your suitability for the position, it expresses your eagerness to hear back from them, and it thanks them for their consideration of your application; the material in between SPECIFICALLY addresses the qualifications they listed in the job announcement and describes things you have actually done that meet those qualifications. Do NOT expect them to read your resume and match it to their own requirements. That is YOUR job. If they want you to be able to do ABC, you tell them when and where you did ABC (or something very much like it).
Ideally the letter will be one page, but if the list of things they want to see in their ideal candidate is long, you may need a second page to be sure they understand you can do what they are expecting. Don't be overly wordy; simply state the facts in the fewest possible words that make the point you want to make.
If you'd like, I will be happy to review a cover letter for you free of charge and make some suggestions to you about strengthening it. Attach it to an email and send it to me at the address below. Good luck!