The cover letter: quite possibly the most hated part of applying for a new position.
The population is split over the importance of a cover letter. Some hiring managers won’t consider an application without one, whereas some people believe that it’s time we got rid of the cover letter altogether.
No matter where you stand in the Great Cover Letter Debate, right now it’s an unavoidable part of looking for a new job. So instead of fighting it, we’re going to share valuable insights that will help you craft an exceptional cover letter that will make you stand out from the crowd.
Why do I have to write a cover letter, anyway?
A cover letter may seem like a waste of time to you, but for a hiring manager or recruiter it can provide valuable insight into your suitability for a role, as well as giving you an opportunity to get a bit of your personality across.
Whilst CVs come in all shapes and sizes, when it comes down to it, they’re all very much the same. A cover letter is an opportunity for you to speak directly to the hiring manager and tell them why they should be paying attention to your application.
It can also be a way of weeding out un-enthusiastic applicants. If a job advert states that an application requires a cover letter, and you submit an application without one, that sends a clear message to the hiring manager that you either didn’t read the advert properly, or that you don’t care enough about the role to include a cover letter.
Step One: Research, Research, Research
Research is vital when it comes to writing a cover letter. The more personalised your cover letter is, the better.
Grab a highlighter and pull out key words from the job advert. What specific skills and attributes are they looking for? Make a note of these and start to think about how you can use your experience to demonstrate you possess the experience required for the role. This will help steer your writing in the right direction and makes for good interview preparation further down the line.
By showing that you not only believe yourself to be the most suitable person for the role, but that you have researched the business and have an understanding of what they are looking for, you make yourself stand out from other applicants and improve your chances at being invited to interview.
What are the company’s values, and how do they align with your own? What are the company’s needs for the role, and how can your skills help them? Do you have a special interest in their industry?
These are all valuable questions to be asking when starting to think about your cover letter.
Step Two: Start Writing
You’ve done your research, now it’s time to start putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard…).
A stream of consciousness isn’t going to cut it! Make sure that you are structuring your cover letter so that it reads well, showcases your suitability for the role, and gets to the point without going around the houses.
An attention-grabbing opening paragraph. You want to entice hiring managers to read on, so starting your cover letter with an impactful statement about yourself and what attracted you to the role is a good place to start.
Shine a spotlight on your skills and achievements. After all, this is the information that the hiring manager wants, and is your opportunity to let them know that your particular skillset is exactly what they are looking for. This is a good place to mention notable achievements that are relevant to the position.
Data and examples. If you have quantifiable data or specific examples which demonstrate your value and competency, be sure to include them. Don’t get too wordy, however! Clear and concise is the way to go.
Align your qualifications and experience with the job requirements. Now it’s time to bring it all together. How do those skills you have spoken about translate to what the company needs? How will you bring value to their team?
Genuine enthusiasm. The boring stuff is out of the way, now it’s time to think about the ‘why’. Why do you want to work for that business? What is it about the role that calls to you? Showcase your personality and passion.
Strong closing paragraph. We don’t want this to get too wordy, so let’s start bringing it all together and close out strong! End it on a high-note, express appreciation for the hiring manager’s time, and confidently invite further discussion.
“If you have any reservations or concerns about my application, I would love the opportunity to discuss these with you and welcome you reaching out to me for a formal or informal chat.”
It’s worth noting that the aim of a cover letter is to enhance your experience, not simply replicate your CV in long form. This is a classic mistake we see time and again, and hiring managers will simply stop reading if it’s clear your letter isn’t personalised to their role.
Be sure to refer back to elements of your CV instead of duplicating them in your letter. This will help keep your letter snappy, readable and relevant. Cherry-picking your key achievements and aligning those to specific skills and attributes from the job description is a sure-fire way to stand out from the crowd.
Step Three: The Polish
Proofreading is important. Very important.
You would be surprised at just how many CVs and cover letters cross our recruiter’s desks that have never seen a spell checker and are littered with silly typos and careless mistakes. It’s less about your language skills, and more about your level of care and attention. The ability to communicate clearly – whether with colleagues, stakeholders or clients – is an important skill for every employer. We understand that not everybody has perfect written English, however, don’t forget to utilise the tools available to you to make sure you’re not going to stand out for the wrong reasons.
Have a trusted friend or family member proofread your cover letter before you submit it. By spending time on the document, you may have become ‘blind’ to certain errors on the page, that someone else can easily pick up for you.
Optimise your cover letter's format, being sure to use legible fonts and a clean layout, ensuring easy readability for hiring managers. Don’t get fancy with your layout, or be tempted to submit a PDF – many CRMs and AI struggle to read PDF files. A large number of businesses use AI to filter their applications nowadays, and keeping things simple and easy for a computer program to read increases your chances of getting your application on the desk of a real-life human.
Step Four: …and SEND!
Now you’ve written and polished your cover letter, it’s time to send it! If you are submitting your application by email, copy and paste your cover letter into the body of the email so that it’s the first thing that the hiring manager sees upon opening your application.
If you are submitting documents, put the cover letter in a separate document to your CV, but make sure that the file name makes it very clear what it is!
Now you’ve crafted your first one, the rest will come much easier. You can use your first as a template, but make sure that you are tailoring your cover letter for each role – no matter how tempting it is to copy, paste and swap out a few words.
Next up, learn how to perfect your CV here!
Got the interview? Congratulations! We’ve got advice for that, too…
And our expert jobhunting advice doesn’t stop there: