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Writing a great cover letter
Recruiters and hiring managers often receive hundreds of applications for each job. If yours is to gain the attention it deserves, you need to start with a cover letter that instantly demonstrates the relevancy of your skills and the value you could bring to the employer.
That’s why it is very important not to rush this document.
What is a cover letter?
Before we begin – let’s go back to basics. A cover letter serves as a personal introduction to you as a professional. It most commonly takes the form of a personalised note to add to an online application or an email attaching your CV.
It enables you to briefly summarise why you are the right person for the job, before the reader goes on to find out more about you in your CV.
How to write a cover letter
1. Firstly, do your research. Go through the job advertisement or position description and underline the keywords used to describe the skills, training and experience sought. But be careful not to keyword-stuff your cover letter in the hope that your application will get picked up by applicant tracking software (ATS) – it is possible to overdo your use of keywords!
Your research shouldn’t end there though. Review the organisation’s website and social media profiles, its executives’ social media profiles and any online employee reviews. This will give you an indication of the appropriate tone to use in your cover letter and the points you should include, bearing in mind such factors as the organisation’s industry, culture and values.
2. Use this information to tailor your cover letter. Not all candidates make the effort to write a tailored and personalised cover letter that communicates why you are genuinely interested in, and suitable for, the job you are applying for. This means your cover letter must be tailored rather than a standard message that you’ve edited. If you do this, you’re more likely to catch the attention of the reader.
3. Next, write an attention-grabbing introduction. Think of a strong opening to hook the reader in. The first sentence of your cover letter will either grab the hiring manager’s attention or lose it, so it needs to powerfully demonstrate that you understand what the organisation requires.
One way to do this is to communicate your unique selling points (USP) that will help you solve the hiring manager’s problems, such as relevant industry know-how, skills, experience and achievements, instead of the generic “I’m applying for the role of XYZ.”
Another option is to mention an existing connection, if you have one. For example, if you’ve come across this opportunity via a friend or have a connection with the organisation, mention it. Maybe you were previously introduced to the hiring manager by this person, because they thought you were a good fit for the role? Or perhaps you crossed paths as an employee at one of the organisation’s suppliers or competitors?
4. Add evidence of your successes. Throughout your letter, talk about what you would bring to the organisation, role and opportunity. Support this with specific and relevant examples of your achievements to demonstrate you have what the employer is looking for. Remember, the recruiter or hiring manager is interested in concrete facts not quirkiness or clichés. The aim is to paint a picture of success so that he or she cannot possibly pass your application over without opening your CV.
5. Don’t overlook the finer points. Find out the name of the recruiter or hiring manager so you can address your cover letter to them personally. This information is easier to find than it ever has been before, so there’s no excuse for getting names wrong or not addressing your cover letter to the correct person.
Towards the end of your cover letter, confirm your availability and sign off with a power phrase such as, “I would like to discuss in greater detail the value I could bring to your organisation.” Then close with the formal and widely accepted “Kind regards” or “Yours sincerely”. Make sure you include your phone number, email address and LinkedIn URL.
6. Finally, review your cover letter. Spell check and ensure the formatting is correct. If you’re submitting your cover letter as an attachment online, write it in a Word document so that the program can flag up obvious issues like misspellings. Also, check that any formatting in Word translates properly into the email or online form. Break any intimidating blocks of text into more readable paragraphs and bullet points.
Final tips for a great cover letter
• Keep it succinct and relevant. Your cover letter should not exceed one page.
• State what your motivation is behind your application.
• Don’t just repeat your CV or LinkedIn profile. Your cover letter should complement these, but it must also enhance your story. What is it about your background that makes you especially relevant for this position?
• Don’t write in the third person. A cover letter is, after all, a letter, addressed directly to a recruiter or hiring manager. You are using this document to sell yourself, and while a cover letter’s tone of voice should be professional, it should also be sufficiently conversational to engage the reader and communicate your interest in the role.
• Just as you would in your CV, use strong verbs to demonstrate action and accomplishments, such as "organise" or "supervise".
• Optimise the subject line, if you can.