Writing Cover Letters
Cover letters are a part of the application process that most jobseekers dread, but talking about yourself is an important part of selling yourself and appealing to potential employers.
The cover letter is your first and foremost opportunity to let an employer know what sets you apart from everyone else, and let them get a sense of who you are. So it’s important to get it right, here are some tips to guide you.
To Whom It May Concern
No one likes letters to ‘the homeowner’
The first task you should set to when putting together a cover letter is figuring out who you should address it to.
Look at the job advertisement first. It may mention a contact by name in which case you’re sorted. There may also be a name in the email address, especially if it’s a small startup company. Otherwise, you’re going to have to do some digging. Check around their website and Linkedin pages to see if you can find a hiring manager. Otherwise, you may want to go for the head of the department you’re applying to.
You’re going to need to do this at some point during the process, to make sure you’ve got an understanding of the company ahead of your interview, you might as well get a head start now. It’s the simplest way of indicating to the hiring manager that you want to apply to them specifically, and aren’t just sending out applications to any job opening you can find.
Dear sir/madam is right out!
Building on your CV
So you can stand up and out
One of the biggest mistakes we see applicants make on their cover letters is reiterating too much information that’s already in their CV. You’re sending off both, so your cover letter and your CV need to complement each other.
While a CV tends to read pretty dryly by necessity, your cover letter is a chance to shine as an individual. Draw on specific achievements you’re proud of, and how you went about achieving them. Why are they relevant to this role? What are you working on now? What about you, specifically you, makes you the best possible candidate for this role?
It’s a tough ask, people don’t like talking about themselves in this sort of way, but remember that you are, ultimately, selling yourself.
Keep it Specific…
Your skills are indescribable!
You’ll hear this many times over the course of your job search, but it bears repeating again and again:
Your application should be tailored to each company you apply to!
While you can have a template, and say similar things with each application, you should be ready, willing and able to adapt each segment so that it matches what a company is looking for.
Imagine getting a letter from someone frothing with breathless enthusiasm about how great they’d be for a job you want them to do…but it’s clearly for a different company. It’d be uncomfortable right? Or look at it another way, someone writes you a letter, but it’s so blatantly a copy and pasted boilerplate job that it tells you nothing about them as a person. You’d toss that letter in the bin too.
Always aim to have a paragraph about the company, and shift wording around so that it fits in with what they’re looking for.
…But keep it Simple!
Brevity is the Soul of Wit
A cover letter should be no more than a page, and by necessity more than half a page. Thus, you don’t really have words to waste. If you find yourself going over one page, get a critical friend to come in and cut out at least half of what you’ve written. It’ll be a much stronger and less woolly letter for it.
As a rough format, you can’t go wrong with the following
An introduction explaining who you are, what position you’re applying for, where you saw it advertised, and why you think you’d be great for it in a succinct line or two.
A paragraph about why you’d be good for this company
A paragraph about why this company would be good for you
A conclusion to bring it all together
To get noticed by Robots
Hiring gets expensive for companies, so it makes sense that a lot of employers will use what tools they can to make the process go smoother. We’ve talked about some important ones here.
What does this mean to you, as a potential candidate? It means that by accounting for a few of them, you can increase your chances of getting actual human eyes on your application.
One of the most popular kinds of ATS involve OCR recognition to parse through cover letters, looking for keywords and filtering out applicants who don’t seem relevant.
Obviously, you shouldn’t fill your cover letter with tags and keywords in the hope of getting noticed by the ATS. If you pass through, your application will be read by a human at some point, so you don’t want your cover letter to look like it was written by a robot as well as read by one.
What you can do instead is take the language used in the job description, and utilize it in your letter. If the ad calls for a specific trait, use their wording rather than your own, so long as it flows naturally. Odds are, an ATS will be told to look for similar language.
This is good practice regardless of if an ATS is in play or not, because again, it implies to anyone reading your letter that you’ve tailored it to this specific job, which is always a good look.
Cover letters can feel like a slog, but their importance cannot be overemphasized. Much as we might like to think that our CVs shine on their own merits, with a poor cover letter your CV will never be looked at. Be specific, be direct and actually answer what you think the company is looking for, and you’ll get more responses in no time.