Cover Letter FAQ

Many job seekers mistakenly believe that the cover letter has gone the way of typewriters and 8-track tapes. This couldn't be further from the truth. Far from a relic of the past, the often-overlooked cover letter remains a key self-promotional tool for accounting professionals — especially in a competitive job market. The following answers to common cover letter questions will help you win over prospective employers and convince them to call you for interviews:

Q: Between my resume and LinkedIn profile, isn't that enough? Is writing a cover letter really that helpful?

A: Yes, writing a cover letter can absolutely help you. How do we know this? Well, because employers say so. In fact, a whopping 91 percent of executives polled said cover letters are valuable when evaluating job candidates, according to a survey by our company. So, whether you submit your resume via online form, email, fax or even snail-mail, it's wise to include or attach a carefully crafted cover letter. If there's no designated area on the online form for your cover letter, cut and paste your text into the body of an email.

Q: To save myself time, can't I just write one basic cover letter and change the name of the firm it's addressed to?

A: You can, but you're missing a huge opportunity to stand out from the crowd when you use a generic, one-size-fits-all cover letter. Instead, gain leverage on less-diligent job seekers and impress hiring managers by doing your homework and targeting your document. Thoroughly review each company's website, marketing materials and recent annual reports to get a better understanding of the firm, its culture, mission and successes.

The more information you uncover, the more opportunities you have to directly connect your skills with the organization's needs. While you don't need to start from scratch every time you find a new job posting of interest, taking the time to customize your cover letter is well worth the extra effort. For example, for one open position you might emphasize your mastery of a specialized software program; while for another you play up your ability to communicate complex financial information to non-financial audiences.

Q: I was laid off from my last job. Should I address this employment gap in my cover letter? If so, how?

A: Your best bet is to be upfront and briefly explain the situation. After introducing yourself, write a short sentence addressing the layoff, but then quickly pivot toward positive information about how you've kept your skills current. For example, have you attended any industry conferences or enrolled in professional-development courses to expand your knowledge in a particular area? Have you taken on temporary assignments or pro bono work? Explaining how you've remained productive and connected to your field demonstrates commitment and motivation — both of which are appealing attributes that can allay an employer's concerns about a resume gap.

Q: How much personality should I put into my cover letter?

A: A little bit goes a long way. Some job seekers make this mistake of writing a cover letter that reads more like a meandering journal entry. Remember: It's a professional business document. Offering a touch of personality is fine, but leave out information about your personal life that doesn't pertain to your ability to perform the job. Referencing unrelated hobbies or making attempts at humor can detract from your pitch.

Q: How long should my cover letter be?

A: Some long-winded job candidates write multi-page cover letters that mainly rehash their resumes, while others write little more than, "Please hire me. See attached resume." Neither of these approaches will work in your favor. In general, it's best to limit your letter to four or five highly focused paragraphs. The key is to be compelling yet concise, highlighting the aspects of your work history that relate to the job opportunity. Again, you don't need to share your life story. The goal is to simply pique the interest of time-strapped hiring managers, nudging them to take a closer look at your resume.

Q: Anything else I need to know? 

Yes. Before submitting a cover letter, always proofread. Then proofread some more. Our company's research consistently shows that just one or two spelling or grammatical mistakes in a resume or cover letter can significantly damage an applicant's chances.

Related post: Why a Chronological Resume May Not Be Right for You