Many inexperienced job applicants spend an inordinate amount of time working on their CVs to perfect them. But when it comes to sending a cover letter, they just knock one out as fast as possible and hit the ‘send’ button. Unsurprisingly, few of these applicants will be successful.
The trouble is, the cover letter is one of the most important aspects of your job application. In reality, many CVs are incredibly similar and easy to skim over - it’s a factual document. A cover letter, however, is where you get the chance to let your personality shine through, as well as underlining your skills and abilities to thrive in the advertised role.
With this in mind, here are a few things you need to consider when creating your cover letter - let’s get started with the absolute basics.
The first thing any job applicant needs to do is research the company they are applying to. Look at how the business works, and ensure you know exactly what it is that they do. Take care to investigate your potential role, too - can you answer every question they will ask about the job spec?
There are many other things you need to know about the company, which can really make a difference to your cover letter - and you should tailor that letter accordingly. For example, are you aware of the firm’s competitors, both on a local and national level? Who is their target audience? The more you know about the company, its place in the market, and the job role, the more chance you will have of creating an eye-catching, interview-winning cover letter.
Take notes - as many as possible. Then, use everything you have learned to tailor your actual letter, matching up their requirements with your skills and experiences. Not only will it improve your chances of impressing them from a candidacy perspective, but you will also prove that your interest in their company is serious.
While there is more room on a cover letter for self-expression than on a CV, you do need to be wary about going on for too long. A good cover needn’t be any longer than half a side of A4, and should be concise, to-the-point, and exceptionally presented.
Formal fonts are a must, of course, so none of those fancy handwritten ones - or, worse, Comic Sans - and make sure that the words are well spaced apart and easily read.
Paragraphs are critical, too. No one likes reading huge blocks of text, as it’s impenetrable and time-consuming. Clear paragraphs will help you get your message across, and allow for any skim readers to ensure they can grasp what it is you are trying to say.
Nothing is set in stone when it comes to creating a cover letter. But there are a few principles you should follow to ensure your efforts don’t go to waste.
Open the letter by explaining why you are sending the letter in the first place. You can also include where you saw the ad, and if anyone has referred you, this is the best place to use their name. It’s very simple - nothing uncomplicated, and is just there to act as a friendly and quick introduction.
Try: “I wish to apply for the position of x, which is currently advertised on y. Enclosed is my CV for your consideration.”
Next, you need to dive right in with the skills and qualifications you have for the job. Don’t mess around, get those professional and educational experiences out there straight away.
Try something like this: “I have four years experience working in x, and feel I have the skills, knowledge and expertise in y to be the perfect candidate for this job.”
OK, so now you need to move on to selling yourself. At this point, you want to ensure that you are addressing any of the points you have made in your research. Let’s say that ‘Job X’ is asking for someone with proven experience in increasing sales.
You might say: “I have ten years experience selling x, and have been responsible for increasing YOY department sales by 40 per cent.”
Finally, the last paragraph. Here, you can afford to inject a little more personality into proceedings. You need to reiterate why you are applying, of course, but it’s also a good time to show your passion for what you do. Think about why you might be the best fit.
Something like this might work: “I believe I have what it takes to translate my previous success with Company Y and contribute even more to your Company X and help you build on your reputation as Industry Z’s leading lights.”
Cover letters are usually addressed to the person dealing with the applications. The chances are that you will be able to find this info somewhere on the original application, but if you cannot find a contact name, don’t panic.
You can actually turn this into an advantage. It gives you the perfect opportunity to ring into the business and request a name. You may even get to speak to them, and ultimately that may be a good chance to ensure they remember you! Not only that, of course, but they are also likely to be impressed by your initiative.
Regarding signing off, there is a small dependency. If you know the name of the hiring manager, always sign off “Yours sincerely.” If you don’t know the contact name, however, then ensure you sign it “Yours Faithfully.”
There is an art and a science to writing an exceptional, eye-catching cover letter. However, it’s always the science part you have to get right first. Do your research, make lots of good notes, and ensure you answer the points you need to. Then it’s a case of adding some flair and creativity, to ensure you tick all the boxes, but also stand out from the crowd.
Ultimately, a good cover letter can help you attract interest - and ensure your CV gets a second look. Then, it’s just a case of acing the interview - but that’s for another time.