by Valerie Arendt, MSW, MPP
Should you submit a cover letter when one is not required? The answer is yes. Cover letters are essential to getting an interview. They are a concise way to communicate your value to an organization, and hiring managers do use them to winnow candidates. Your cover letter should tell the employer that you are the perfect match for the position. Do this by using the language from the job description and organizational mission. It is essential to tailor your cover letter to the specific job.
Here are some basics for writing an interview-winning cover letter:
- Salutation: Find out who will be reading your letter. This is essential. If it is easy to find out who will be reviewing applications and you don’t take the time to do this, they probably won’t take the time to read your letter.
- Name of Organization and Position Title: The organization may have multiple openings. Be sure to indicate which position you are applying for.
- Referral Source: If someone in or close to the organization suggested you apply for this job, mention that person in the cover letter. This will let the reader know you have a connection to the organization and will score big points.
- Why do you want to work for them? You need to describe to your reader how the organization’s mission and goals are a good fit for you professionally. This shows them you know about the organization and have done your homework.
- What can you do for their clients/organization? Sell yourself. Let them know how your experience and education is a perfect match for the position and a good fit for the organization. This is where you use the keywords from the job description to really hit it home that you are a candidate worthy of an interview.
Below is a real job description with keywords highlighted. If you have the experience they are looking for, you should invariably use the same language in your cover letter.
Title: Social Worker
Job Details: Responsible for completion of psychosocial assessment of patients and families enrolled in Hospice. Will work as part of a team to address end-of-life needs, some counseling and emphasis on case management. Able to access homes in Moore & Montgomery County service areas. Must be able to take call rotation. Strong organizational skills needed.
After a strong introductory paragraph, the body of your cover letter should be concise and address the two to four most important details from the job description:
My experience and areas of expertise are an excellent match for the requirements stated in your announcement:'
- Hospice Assessments: As a clinician with St. John’s Hospital, I prepared extensive psychosocial assessments and treatment plans for patients.
- End-of-Life Care: I provided counseling and accurate case management to more than 1,000 patients and their families over 7 years as a member of the St. John’s Hospital end-of-life team.
- Home Visits: I made regular home visits to hospice patients in Moore and Montgomery Counties and was responsible for two on-call shifts per month.
Close by stating that your experience and passion make you a perfect fit for the employer. Include the best way for them to contact you for an interview.
If you’re applying for a role in social work, you need to make a good first impression. Being a social worker is hard work, but also extremely worthwhile. So, what can you do to make sure your application is a certainty for the short list?
If you need some inspiration on what to include in your CV and cover letter, check out our handy examples. (Just remember not to copy them as exact templates.)
Cover letter example:
Dear Ms Name,
As a fully qualified [child/adult] social worker with [number] years experience, I feel I would be well-suited for the role of [job title] at [name of council or organisation]. Please find my CV attached.
The nature of my experience includes successfully managing a demanding caseload, which includes [elderly people/young children/people who have learning disabilities /mental health issues]. I have a [person-centred] approach to my work, which involves calmly and practically responding to service users to achieve the best outcomes. I am also experienced in coordinating care with other agencies, such as primary care practices and psychological services.
In addition, I have a particular interest in [...]. This stimulated me to lead a community project on [...]. As part of this, I had to liaise with [...] meaning that I have developed skills in [...]. I faced some challenges along the way, such as [...] and overcame them by [...]. The impact of the project overall was measured by/ has been evidenced in [...].
As shown by my experience in [social work/social work placements], I am enthusiastic about establishing what is best for the individual and always strive to do the best for service users. I am able to successfully manage a demanding caseload. I also have the enthusiasm and determination to ensure that I make a success of this role.
Thank you for taking the time to consider this application and I look forward to hearing from you in future.
CV and cover letter tips:
“The most important thing about your CV and cover letter is that everything you include is relevant,” says Craig Davis, head of social work for Sanctuary. “Don’t start going off on a tangent, or waffling – every part has to be tailored to the role you’re applying for.”
Tom Hawkins, director of Hays Social Care, adds that you should keep your cover letter short. “Don’t over-elaborate, and don’t repeat what’s on your CV. The key things you need to include are: the reason you’re applying, the reason you want to move on from your current employment, and the things that you have in your armoury that make you suitable for the job.”
As social work is a vocational profession, it’s also important that you evidence enthusiasm for the job. “Don’t be scared to sound passionate about what you do – why you do it and why you enjoy it,” he adds.
In your CV it’s also worth including any information that the hiring manager might need as a “tick box” exercise in the application process: such as whether you have an up-to-date DBS check, or registration with relevant social work bodies.
“Be as clear as you can in your writing,” says Hawkins. “So use bullet points to describe roles, rather than long and prosaic sentences. Try and start each bullet point with a verb, such as ‘created, managed, improved’ – this is a good way to focus info on what you did and the difference it made.”
As much as experience is important, it’s not the only thing hiring managers are looking for. “Some managers will look at someone who has less experience but is more enthusiastic – so be sure to get your passion for the work across in your writing,” adds Davis.
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