1) Do You Need a Cover Letter?
Before you write a single word though, find out whether you even need a cover letter at all.
While a great cover letter in the right situation can be the difference between getting an interview or not, the best cover letter in the wrong situation isn't worth the words you put on paper.
There are two times when you don't need a cover letter:
- Cover letters aren't accepted.
- Cover letters won't actually be read.
1) Cover letters aren't accepted.
First of all, find out how you're expected to submit your application - email, web form, carrier pigeon, etc. If you need to submit your application online, check out what the submission form looks like ahead of time. If there's no space to submit a cover letter - great, you're done! The company is telling you cover letters aren't valued - so no need to write one.
Unfortunately, it's not always that clear…
2) Cover letters won't actually be read.
Many companies that don't value cover letters won't come out and tell you that. Often, if you're expected to email your application, the instructions may say something like: "Send your resume to email@example.com" - with no mention of cover letters one way or another.
While it's tempting, in these situations, just to submit a cover letter anyway, my philosophy is that the only cover letter worth submitting is a great one. And great cover letters take time. Thus, it's worth your while to find out beforehand whether companies actually want cover letters. That way, you don't waste time on an amazing cover letter that never gets read.
How do you find this out?
Believe it or not, the best way is to ask. If you know someone at the company, by all means have them ask for you. If not, don't hesitate to write to a recruiter or hiring manager directly. It's in their interest to get the best applications so, if you ask nicely, you're likely to get a response. Here's how to do it:
Dear Ms. Smith,
I'm interested in applying for the Sales VP role at Acme Inc. Before I do, I'd like to be certain that I prepare the materials that will best help you make your hiring decision. As such, would you like me to furnish a cover letter along with my resume?
Thank you for any information you can share!
All the best,
If you don't hear back and you're truly passionate about the job, the best advice is to still submit a cover letter. That way, no matter the company's policy, you'll be covered.
But by doing a little research ahead of time, you can often save lots of time down the road!
2) Who's Your Audience?
OK, so you've discovered that you have to submit a cover letter. And you're raring to get started. But, like any great writer, you first have to know whom you're writing for. So here are three important points about your audience:
- It could be a recruiter (i.e, someone whose job is finding great candidates but who wouldn't have much contact with you, once you're hired) or a hiring manager (i.e., someone whose main job isn't finding candidates but who would be your boss or teammate, once hired). In many companies, it will be both. But the nice thing about cover letters is that it doesn't really matter. Because each will be facing the same situation...
- Picture this scene: It's 6 PM on a Friday evening. The office is empty - except for one glowing cube. Here, the lonely recruiter or hiring manager sits, toiling away in search of the perfect candidate. In front of him or her is anywhere from 50-500 cover letters and resumes. Suddenly, the weekend seems very far away... As grim as this story sounds, it's the reality for many roles. And it's the reason why your cover letter has to be awesome: it simply needs to stand out!
- Now imagine this: It's two weeks later and interviews are starting for the job. In comes a candidate who doesn't seem qualified at all. How does the cover letter reader feel? Humiliated. And what do they do about? Next time, they only offer interviews to the candidates with the best, most obvious qualifications.
The key takeaway here is that cover letter readers are both in a hurry but also cautious in picking candidates to interview. So start to put yourself in their shoes as you begin to write. Think, "How can I both catch their attention but also convince them I'm a safe bet?" Given that 90% of your competition will inevitably submit generic cover letters and/or fail to demonstrate substantial qualifications, recognizing this single insight will already put you in elite company.
3) Why Write a Cover Letter?
One last question to ponder before we start writing: What's the point of the cover letter anyway?
Especially given all the applications recruiters and hiring managers have to get through, why would they ever ask for more material? After all, every cover letter they receive doubles the amount of reading they have to do per candidate (compared to just looking at resumes).
The answer actually has everything to do with that crippling workload. Because as painful as reading hundreds of cover letters is, doing hundreds of interviews is worse. And yet, without the cover letter, that's exactly what recruiters would have to do!
It all starts with the resume.
You see, resumes are a great idea in theory. They take really different, hard-to-compare candidates and they boil them down to one-page summaries that can be contrasted, side-by-side. This makes the recruiter's life easier initially. But the dark side of resumes is that, because they're so short and regimented, it's hard to really get a feel for each unique candidate. Plus, candidates can create one resume for 1,000 different jobs, so a recruiter has no idea how committed the candidate is to his/her particular company. As a result, resumes and candidates all begin to seem the same after a while - necessitating lots of interviews to sort candidates apart.
But what if there was a companion to the resume? A similarly short document but one that actually helped to distinguish good candidates from bad ones, committed job-seekers from those who couldn’t care less?
Enter the cover letter.
The cover letter has three important advantages over resumes:
- It can give recruiters a better feel for the real candidate. Instead of hiding beyond bullet points, candidates can fully express themselves and show off their personalities.
- It can signal how passionate a candidate is about the job. Because good cover letters must be personalized to the company and role, it's impossible to put together good cover letters for thousands of jobs like you can with a single resume.
- It can separate the wheat from the chaff. Since each cover letter will be relatively unique, it's easier to choose between applicants than with resumes - where each applicant seems similar.
So now you know why many recruiters require cover letters. And instead of seeing the cover letter as yet another hassle that must be endured, you can start to see it as an opportunity. A chance to stand out, show off your personality and passion, and get ahead of candidates with similar resumes.
4) Choose a Format
At this point, you've laid all the groundwork for a successful cover letter:
- You've determined that you actually need to write one.
- You understand whom you're writing for.
- You know why you're writing.
So let's get down to it, starting with selecting a format.
This can be one of the most fun steps in the cover letter development process - but don't overthink it! Unless you're applying for a design job (in which case the format represents your sense of style), your words still trump your design.
Open up Word (or your word processor of choice) and you'll likely be confronted with a variety of templates - including a handful of cover letters. Choose the template that best matches your desired company's style - Modern for a quirky startup, Traditional for a 100 year-old law firm.
If you don't have access to templates though, no worries! We'll walk through the entire process of designing your own in the following steps.
5) Enter Your Address
Believe it or not, many cover letters go awry at the very top. The reason for this is that cover letter-writers list an address that gets them disqualified right off the bat.
Specifically, they do one of two things:
- They list an out-of-town address. For some companies, this is a deal-breaker. They just don't want to bother with flying candidates in from elsewhere. But if you're prepared to fly in yourself, then don't let them rule you out! If you're getting ready to move to a city, list your future address (even if it's just a friend's place where you plan to crash). And if you don't have a place but would be willing to move, then don't list any mailing address at all. Why give them an excuse to kick you out of the process if you're willing to do what it takes to stay in?
- They list an inappropriate email address. Have you been checking your messages at firstname.lastname@example.org since high school? Then guess what? It's time for a new address! Either use an alumni address (e.g., email@example.com) or a professional-sounding personal address (e.g., firstname.lastname@example.org) - and be sure to check it regularly. Stay away from work email since you don't want your current boss seeing your correspondence with your future boss!
In addition to avoiding these deadly cover letter sins, write your name and contact info in the upper right-hand corner of the page, just like this:
The Disney Professional Internships team is eager to find talented candidates like you for our wide variety of internship opportunities. The next chapter of your story could be a Disney internship, and we want to help!
Top 5 ways to get noticed for a Disney Professional Internship
- Make your résumé stand out by making it concise and easy-to-read – recruiters only spend a few seconds before deciding whether or not to move on, so make it easy for them to locate your key skills. Your résumé should be appropriate for the roles you are applying for, for example, a legal or analytical résumé should be standard in format, while a creative résumé for an art or graphic design position should showcase your skills.
- If you write a cover letter, use it to tell why you are excited about that particular role and how you would be a great fit, rather than reiterate what is on your résumé. Make it easy to read, too, using short paragraphs and bullet points if appropriate.
- Use your contacts – sometimes it is who you know, even if that means just getting your résumé “pulled from the stack” and put in front of the right person. And remember, your contacts may help you get your foot in the door – but you have to win the internship yourself.
- If you are invited to a preliminary interview, take it seriously as it the gateway to an interview with the decision-maker. Do your homework about the job and the company, and show your enthusiasm through your tone and your questions.
- Interviews with hiring leaders will be more in-depth than a preliminary interview – be even more prepared – and be on time. Expect to share examples from your previous experience and have questions prepared. A thank-you note can separate you from other candidates.
Top 5 ways NOT to get noticed for a Disney Professional Internship
- Present a sloppy résumé that is too long, not formatted well, or inappropriate for the industry you are applying to. Recruiters review A LOT of résumés, and will pass by one that is difficult to read, disorganized or unsuitable.
- Write a cover letter that is riddled with grammatical errors, incorrect company names or job titles. If your letter states that you have strong attention to detail, but has the wrong company name, you WILL be passed over.
- Ask a contact or a recruiter to tell you what jobs are available or best for you. Even if you do have a connection who can help, don’t make them do the work for you. Tell them what positions you are interested in, why you would be a good fit, and how you would like them to help. Do your homework first, and apply to the position online. Be polite and appreciative. And always attach your most recent résumé. Make it easy for them to help.
- Treat a preliminary phone interview casually. Please do not answer the phone inappropriately, forget about the interview, or talk while walking your dog. Really.
- Waste a leader’s time by not being on time, not being prepared, and not being professional.
Put your best self forward – we are excited to meet you!
AndreaDisney Campus Recruitment