One of the most important pieces of your job application packet is your cover letter. Since you cannot be there, in person, when your application materials arrive (cover letter, resume and samples), to introduce yourself, make a solid first impression, and inject some of your sparkling personality into the conversation, your cover letter is your representative—to hopefully do all of this for you.
If you've applied for a job in the past, as most of us have—including myself, and all you had to do is walk in the front door, fill out an application, and begin working the following Monday, you may not have needed a cover letter. But…going forward, consider that a cover letter will help you appear much more professional and possibly help you land a better job. I believe that a cover letter should be considered a necessity for all job applicants.
I always like reading applicants' cover letters. It allows me to begin to get to know them and get to know what type of person, and employee, they may turn out to be. While a cover letter doesn't usually get you hired, it is an important piece of the big hiring picture that should be taken seriously.
Cover letter tips & guidelines
One page and done
I've seen many different types of cover letters. Some are long, some are short, and some are medium length. I prefer the medium length cover letters. I like the letters that take up about three-quarters of a single page. They tend to be succinct enough to make me want to read it, and long enough to introduce me to each person applying and allow me to get to know a little about them and their personality.
Address your letter to a real person
Don't use the old, "To whom it may concern" or "Dear Sir or Madam" or "Ladies and Gentlemen." Use the name in the job posting. If there isn't one, pick up the phone and call the company and ask the receptionist who you should address the letter to. A little resourcefulness will go a long way. Be sure to get their name and position.
Now, if the posting doesn't list a person's name or a company, I would suggest using the most common title for a person who usually manages the department you want to work in. For graphic designers, I'd address it to Art Director. For a sales person, I'd use Sales Manager. You get the picture.
Lastly, call me old-fashioned, but I prefer to receive a cover letter addressed like this, "Dear Mr. Kunce." I like the personal touch of "Dear" and I like the respectful touch of "Mr." I usually don't use a person's first name until I've met them face-to-face or over the phone.
Inject some of your personality into the letter
Have you ever been told to just be yourself? Well, for most of us, that is the last thing we should do. In trying to teach this concept to my children, I tell them that they have two kinds of a Dad. At-home-Dad, who can be funny, quirky, or loud. Then there's at-work-Dad, who has to be professional, level-headed, and a collaborative, team-player. So my point here is that whoever you are at home, make sure that your at-work personality shows up in your cover letter. There is nothing wrong with a little snappy, clever humor, or a passionate statement about your chosen career field. Just make sure it sounds professional and not over-done. How do you know the difference? Have someone else read it who will give you an honest opinion.
Show some enthusiasm!
Whenever I interview a candidate I want to see that they are excited with the possibility of landing the job they applied for. I don't want to see them doing cartwheels, or dancing for joy, but I do expect some level of enthusiasm to resonate through to me during their presentation and our conversations. Without this, I am really turned off. How am I expected to get excited about hiring you if you aren't excited about getting this job? Smile, vary the level of your voice, use your hand when you talk, speak passionately about your portfolio—this makes me want to hire you.
No "form" letters please
Many web articles state that you should never send a "form" cover letter. Each should be written specifically for the job you are applying for. First of all, I agree with that advice, but I also have to say that in 20+ years of hiring people, I have never received a "form" cover letter. So either the word has gotten out, or I have just been fortunate. Which ever it is, be sure to write each cover letter for each specific position you are applying for.
In my experience, most people know which specific field or industry they are going into, and they write one cover letter for that field or industry and tweak it slightly for each company's open position. I think all those articles warning about using a "form" letter are really targeting people who are applying to job openings in many different fields and are incorrectly using the same cover letter for all of them. I wouldn't do that.
A cover letter is a form of professional business correspondence used to apply for a job. It is your first impression—so make it count. You are a professional graphic designer now, so the way you apply for a job should be professional as well. Businesses will be expecting a cover letter to accompany your resume. Most will ask for it directly in their job posting.
Your cover letter is your opportunity to show your personality and to communicate your skills, abilities, interest, and enthusiasm for the job. It elaborates on your resume, and It helps to differentiate you from other candidates.