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Earlier this year, we asked 105 hiring managers and HR professionals to share their insights into the hiring process.

They came back to us with everything from their take on resume length to how much time they really spend reviewing your materials. And over the next few weeks, we'll share our biggest takeaways right here.

Let's start with a look at cover letters

As a hiring manager (and nonprofit pro) myself, if I've said it once, I've said it a million times: always (always always) submit a cover letter. It's optional, you say? The application instructions didn't specify it was required? Submit one anyway!

Because a resume often can (and should) read like an easy-to-digest recounting of your career path and professional accomplishments, it won't provide the same value to a hiring manager without the context offered by your cover letter.

Here is what one hiring manager had to say about the importance of a well-thought-out (and customized) cover letter:

cover letter info

When a strong cover letter can make all the difference

While cover letters are always important, there are three situations where the stakes are even higher:

  1. You don't know anyone at the hiring organization.
  2. You don't meet 100% of the qualifications.
  3. You are switching sectors.

To develop a strong cover letter, you'll want to be a sure of a few things:

  • Don't repeat what is already on your resume. While you may be tempted to really drive your career successes home, a cover letter is not the place to repeat everything you already included on your resume. Are you proposing a solution to an issue that may be faced by the hiring organization? Do you want to highlight some pro-bono work that you've done on the side? Considering mentioning that you'll soon be relocating to the state in which the hiring organization is located? Put it in your cover letter!
  • Check (and recheck) for typos. This is a big one. Chances are high that a hiring manger may read your cover letter even before they review your resume, so it's first impression time! Regardless, it's always important to review your materials for errors and/or inconsistencies.

A well-written cover letter can also be useful if you need to explain gaps in your work history or shorter-term job stints.

Here is how our survey respondents felt about what needs to be included in your cover letter:

cover letter info

So the next time you see a cover letter as an optional part of an application process, take advantage of the opportunity to add a little color and context to your nonprofit story.

Alexis Perrotta profile image

Alexis Perrotta

As the Associate Director of Marketing and Communications at Idealist and a lifelong nonprofit professional, Alexis offers job seekers, game changers, and do gooders actionable tips, career resources, and social-impact advice.

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