A good cover letter is an essential part of any job application. It is an important way of introducing yourself to your potential employer, providing them with insight into why you want the job and what transferable skills you will bring, as well as demonstrating that you have an engaging and professional writing style. The following tips will assist you in perfecting the art of writing a cover letter to achieve maximum job success:
1) The First and Most Important Rule to Writing a Good Cover Letter: Respond to the Specific Job Description
When employers advertise a vacant position, the job posting often includes a description of responsibilities as well as a person specification. Often, a cover letter and resume are marked against a number of criteria that need to be met in order to be offered an interview. Read the literature provided in the job advert and highlight key points relating to your experience, qualifications, skills or hobbies that match the essential and desirable specifications.
2) Don’t Apologize
Self-deprecating sentences which directly or indirectly apologize for not fully meeting desirable criteria give out the opposite impression to a confident and professional cover letter. If there’s a point on the person specification that you don’t quite meet, form your language to demonstrate eagerness and willingness to train and develop in this area.
3) Be Assertive, Confident and Yourself
Use a writing style that reflects your personality. Keep your tone professional, but try to inject as much individualism into it as possible. An employer should read your letter and feel it was written by a human being with a lot of drive and passion.
Small changes to a sentence can make the world of difference in how it is received by the reader. Try to come across as assertive and confident by switching certain phrases. For example, ‘I think I could be of benefit your organization, and I hope to hear from you soon’ can be changed to ‘I know I will be a valuable addition to your organization and look forward to hearing from you’. This confidence will improve your overall presentation.
4) It’s Not All About You
A common mistake some people make is to write about how fantastic this job opportunity would be for them, how they’ve been waiting a lifetime for this moment and how happy they’d be if they were offered a position. Employers already know that you want the job, otherwise you wouldn’t have applied. Try turning this around and flipping your attention onto what you can give to the company, how you will give it and why this is important to all involved. A good cover letter is about you, yes, but always in relation to the employer’s needs.
5) Your Education Isn’t the Only Selling Point
If you have just finished full-time education and are embarking into the real world for the first time, it’s difficult to showcase your skills and experience when the last few years have revolved around university. While your degree and educational history are important, especially in professional roles that require these, show off the fact that you are different from any other graduate in your field. Discuss societies or groups you were engaged in, awards you received, projects you’re proud of, campaigns you promoted, trips you took or any particular life lessons you learnt. All employers want to hear the ‘voice’ behind the cover letter, not just a list of your academic grades.
6) Format It
The perfect length of a cover letter is one page, split into easy-to-follow paragraphs, and using a clear font. Three or four paragraphs should be sufficient. The first paragraph should be an introductory overview as to who you are and why you are interested in the position. The second paragraph should highlight your skills and experience. The third paragraph is an opportunity to fill in any extra details (e.g. explaining gaps in a resume or adding in specific interests and hobbies) and the final paragraph should close the letter professionally and assertively. Do not just regurgitate your work experience, or use fillers to bulk out your page. Each word you choose needs to form a substantive and meaningful sentence. Do not use large, small, comical or child-like fonts. It also goes without saying that your cover letter needs to be proofread for grammar, punctuation and spelling.
7) Explain the Gaps in Your Resume
If you spent 6 months travelling the world, or took time out to be a full-time parent, your cover letter should assist in explaining gaps that have been naturally created in your resume. By failing to address these, it’s likely the employer will be left with unanswered questions and may have less confidence in you as a professional. This also presents you with a fantastic opportunity to discuss what you learnt during this time. For example, if you were travelling the world, did you pick up any new skills while doing so? (Examples could be itinerary planning or a new language.) If you were a stay-at-home parent for a period of time, did you embark upon any new hobbies? Did you do any part-time work from home? Not everything will be relevant, but try to find something to share that might be of interest to the employer.
8) There is No One-Size-Fits-All
It is glaringly obvious when the same generic cover letter has been sent to multiple employers. It shows a lack of interest in the job and translates as lazy and thoughtless. Each cover letter should be unique, and while it may be easier to copy and paste, try to avoid the temptation.
9) Address Your Letter to a Person
Try to find out the name of the person who is likely to be interviewing / employing you. This instantly makes your letter stand out. If you cannot find this information, address it to the manager or recruitment department. Try to avoid using ‘Dear Sir or Madam’ as this is considered old-fashioned. For more on this topic, see Megan Koehler’s article on how to address your cover letter.
10) Research the Company’s Values
This is a good general tip which will assist in both the quality of your cover letter and your interview answers. Firstly, use your detective skills and discover as much information as you can about the company you’re applying to work for. Look at when they were founded, what they do, how many people they employ, whether they have other branches, who they are partnered with and finally, find out what their company values and missions are. Many organizations have a website which states their missions and values. Try to incorporate some of these values into your cover letter to show the employer how well you would fit in with their overall company culture.
by Emma Rowlands