Money can’t buy you happiness. But it is more comfortable to cry in a sports car than it is on the side of the road. This is a fact of life.
Another one is the need for a cover letter to accompany every job application you ever make – unless the advertisement clearly instructs you not to include one.
You might want to consider finding the perfect job as the hardest part of job hunting. Then the application becomes the easy bit where you:
- Say hello
- Tell the organisation a little bit about yourself
- Hook them with your brilliant past achievements
- Seal the deal with your skills
- Make sure they know how to contact you
- And remind them to contact you
Hardly rocket science. However, like many of the seemingly simple things in life, the cover letter can be rather complicated and difficult when you are finally faced with the empty sheet of paper and it is your turn to write one.
So, if you would like a little more detail a good place to start would be with the reason the cover letter was invented. It has one very clear and specific purpose which is catching an employer’s attention. And in a moment, we will give you a solid understanding of how to use this function brilliantly, because this is the one skill that will guarantee that the humble cover letter can change your future.
From the employer’s point of view, the cover letter is a screening method. A quick way to help them form that critical first impression, to interpret the data-oriented, factual resume through a personal lens and decide who to invite for interviews. Conversely a badly written cover letter will not only result in your chances of an interview disappearing, but your resume will probably never be read.
Your words will introduce you, it will mention the specific position you are applying for or would like and will match your skills and experiences directly to the skills and experiences that the job requires. If you do this one job well, the reader will feel compelled to dive into your resume and when you finish with a strong call to action you are already demonstrating the fact that you know how to manage other people.
Don’t be overwhelmed. Don’t worry. We will take it step-by-step and deconstruct the page for you.
Read first. Write later.
Research the organisation by looking for information online. Start with their website and branch out to news articles from there. It isn’t too unusual for company names not to appear in advertisements of course, but you can always call the recruitment agency (if available) that placed the ad and ask them.
You are not only doing this to learn about the company and what it does but also to get an understanding of the language the company uses when it talks about itself. Mirroring language as a subliminal complement is an old trick but an excellent one. It works because it makes people feel like you are a good fit.
If this subtle language skill is not something you feel you could do, you can always make sure you include many of the keywords that the company uses. Parrot words from the advertisement. And from the website.
Format your letter to match your resume. Fonts like Arial, Calibri, Georgia, Verdana, and Times New Roman work well in a 10 or 12-point size and with Standard 1” margins on the top, bottom, and left and right sides of the page. Don’t be tempted to reduce the font to fit more writing onto the page.
Only One Page
Think of your cover letter as your elevator pitch. A brief, persuasive speech that you use to spark interest in what you will do for the organization you are applying to. So, it should always be short enough to recite between a couple of floors in an elevator.
Never Copy the Cover
Your first cover letter will be the most difficult to write, but once you send it off, your work will not be done. Every new job application will require a complete rework of that original. This is your chance to show that you have done your homework, that you understand what the organisation you are applying to stands for and hopes to achieve and what your role within this scheme will be.
The best way to show knowledge is through specifics.
- Be clear-cut about your skills and qualities and how they match the job and the organisation perfectly. In your research you will need to target the company’s needs (so, you can explain how you will answer them). And the company’s pain points (so, you can explain how you are the solution)
- Know exactly who the letter should be addressed to. Make sure you are spelling the name correctly (check more than one source). Do not guess at titles
Pick up the phone or write an e-mail and ensure that you know exact names and understand the detailed demands of the job that they are advertising perfectly. Don’t be afraid to ask questions like:
- Will this position involve working as part of a team?
- Who will the successful applicant report to?
- Can you tell me more about the kind of people you’re looking for?
Make sure you are recording your conversation for reference, so you can refer back to these points when you are writing your cover letter.
All your relevant personal details. Include your name, a professional sounding e-mail and a phone number that you are confident you will be able to answer.
The name and contact details of the organization you are writing to. Specifically, the name of the person you are writing to, their position in the company, their contact details and how you found out about the job offer.
‘Dear Hiring Manager’ can be used in a pinch. ‘To Whom It May Concern’ is always only a very last resort.
The name of the position you are applying for.
A bullet pointed list summarising your relevant skills and experiences and neatly matching them to the job description as advertised.
Respond to all the items on the essential list of desirable skills and experiences in the job listing and as many as possible of the desirable skills and experiences. Increase the value of every skill and experience listing by explaining how you acquired it or an instance where you have used it in a previous job.
Add a summary of why you are particularly suited to the job. Use the research you have done regarding the company to complete the bullet points.
Finish strong with a Call-To-Action. Ask them politely but directly to read your resume and then to contact you about an interview.
There isn’t any need for fancy footwork here. A simple: “I have attached a copy of my resume. I look forward to hearing from you about this job.” will do very nicely.
Never send a cover letter without having spell checked it. Read it out loud and give it to someone you trust to read and edit. Great editors can include friends, family members, your careers teacher or a careers counsellor at your university.
Fact check everything and then do it one more time. Names, places, dates.
Don’t be generic. Remember that you are trying to put the spotlight on your personality and shine here. But don’t be overly personal. Don’t share the funny story about your dog.
Don’t mention any of the skills or experience you don’t have.
Don’t discuss salary requirements, the schedule, or the benefits.
Make sure your cover letter is not your resume. It should complement rather than duplicate your resume. Don’t cut and paste.
Don’t start rambling – remember you want to entice and intrigue. Keep it short enough to make them want more.
Check for “I”. If the entire letter is just a litany of “I believe”, “I have,” and “I am” chances are you will have to look long and hard before finding someone with a fetish for egomaniacs willing to take you on. Simply take those sentences out or rewrite them if you spy them.
Don’t mention your other job applications. You want to convince someone this is the only job you would ever want. It isn’t lying by omission. They know you are applying for other jobs. But in polite society it is simply better not to discuss it.
You should also never write a normal cover letter without an advertised job. A better and far more successful method for landing your dream job that is not actually advertised is to call on a regular basis and ask for available positions. This will demonstrate your motivation and enthusiasm. You will be on the organisation’s radar and you will be first in line when the time is right. Your other option is writing a prospecting letter.
How to write a prospecting letter
There are many similarities between a prospecting letter and the common cover letter. This is what you also have to include in your prospecting letter:
- Expand on your research. Show that you really know the organisation, what it does and explain why you want to work for them particularly. How your skills, experience, interests and long-term goals will fit into the long-term goals of the company
- Include the position that you are hoping for. End the letter by saying that you will contact them again soon, but that you are also happy to talk to them at any time should they wish to speak with you before that
After a couple of weeks, you can contact them again.
What to do if you are asked to send your cover letter by email
Place your name and job title in the email subject line
Keep to the format of an email — don’t treat this as you would a letter — and continue directly on to the ‘Dear XXXX’ part.
Include the body of your cover letter and then conclude with a professional signature that includes your contact information.
It goes without saying that you should always send a cover email only from a professional looking email address.
What to do if you are asked to only send a cover letter (no resume)
Occasionally organisations specifically request that applications come in the form of a one-page cover letter only.
In this cover letter you must concentrate heavily on linking your experience to the job’s requirement. Use bullet points to clearly outline each requirement and how you meet it. Conclude with a Call-To-Action.
To conclude, we can say that both your resume (or cv) and cover letter could make a difference while searching for new jobs so it is fundamental to be able to deliver the correct messages in order to have the opportunity to stand out.
Do you think your cv and cover letter meet all the tips?
Then, you would be the perfect fit for our Master programme