While they often feel like a time-consuming and tedious part of the job-application process, cover letters may be taking on greater importance during the coronavirus pandemic.
According to a recent survey of 334 hiring managers between August and September, roughly half of respondents said they're more likely to read cover letters now than before the pandemic.
TopResume career expert Amanda Augustine says this makes sense as a tough job market leads many workers to apply for roles outside of their normal career path or field altogether.
A good cover letter could take a few extra minutes of time, but it can also benefit job-seekers by giving them a chance to explain a drastic change, Augustine tells CNBC Make It. She offers three elements to writing an effective cover letter if you're switching jobs during the pandemic.
Augustine is a fan of opening your cover letter with an anecdote. It can tell the reader why you're drawn to the company and also show off your personality, something many hiring managers must now assess through application materials and virtual meetings rather than in-person due to the pandemic.
"Infuse personality in describing your qualifications, why you're into this work and what you'd love to accomplish with this employer," Augustine says. An anecdote of how you led a project or accomplished a team goal can show both how you're qualified to do the work, as well as what you're like to work with as a colleague.
When in doubt, ZipRecruiter CEO Ian Siegel says flattery can go a long way. He recommends job seekers open their cover letters with the following sentence: "I'm so excited to apply to this job because ..." and fill in the blank about the company's product, service or mission.
"Show enthusiasm, show you've done research, and show you want to come in there and make a contribution," he adds.
A key part of navigating a mid-pandemic career switch is to focus more on your future job target rather than your work history, Augustine says. That means highlighting the skills, experiences and accomplishments you have that are listed highest in the job description, even if they were lower priorities in your previous work.
Then, list meaningful similarities between your previous work and the job in front of you and how that will help you make the transition. For example, will you be working to serve the same type of customer? Will you be working with similar types of vendors? Or do you even have experience working for a similar-size company?
As much as possible, "find the bridge when you're trying to switch career paths," Augustine says.
Many people will understand if you're applying to a role that doesn't seem to fit your career arc, Augustine says, but you should do your best to address anything that may be considered a red flag.
For example, "if you're suddenly looking at roles that would be considered a step down in seniority, you can position it as 'I am looking for something with less responsibility now because I have more on my plate outside of work,'" Augustine says.
Similarly, if you're moving to a new type of role or field altogether, address it and back it up with why you're both qualified and eager to take on this job anyway.
With fewer in-person interviews happening, the cover letter can help you stand out and show your enthusiasm during the hiring process, Augustine says. "Organizations are looking for additional points of context, and a cover letter is a great place to start showing off a bit of your personality."