First impressions count and when you’re applying for jobs, that means your cover letter is your opening move.
A good cover letter should cover the basics: your skills and what you can bring to the role. But in today’s competitive job market, there’s always more you can do to get noticed.
- Keep it brief. If Twitter has taught us anything, it’s that you can say a whole lot with just a few words. While cover letters don’t need to be under 140 characters, too many candidates labour over long letters that won’t be read in detail – they’re read quickly to look for key highlights that align to the role, and to scan for errors.
So keep your cover letter focused - anywhere between 150 to 350 words is best. You can still show why you’re worthy of getting onto the shortlist within that word count. Keep your letter focused on your skills and potential and leave all the puffery behind - you’ll be surprised you ever used those extra words at all.
- Be yourself. We’re always on our best behaviour when writing cover letters but it can lead to awkward, formal writing. It’s the sort of writing that’s hard to read because the details that will make a boss want to hire you are hidden under a wall of “dear sir/madams”, “and “I am a self-starter team player who can work without direction”.
That best behaviour voice won’t get you an interview because it’s missing what’s so special about your job application: you!
Let employers know who you are and why they want to arrange an interview.
- Show that you’re the solution to all their problems. Employers have a problem: they need someone to fill a vacant role and reading applications and interviewing people takes time away from their jobs. What they really want is for you to show them you’re the solution to all their problems.
Research the company or industry and work out what challenges they’re facing. Do you have a solution? Tell them how you can help with your ideas, skills or experience.
Even if you’re addressing key selection criteria, show what you achieved and use their questions to show results.
- It’s more than repeating your resume. Don’t give a short version of your resume in your cover letter. If an employer wants to read your resume, they will grab that file. What they want to read is about you – what can you show them that is different from every other cover letter? Why would they want to read your resume? What is it that makes you the person they must interview? It’s not just your work history: they want to know how you approach problems, and your interest in both the industry and their company.
Charles Young, Director of recruitment agency Citak, agrees. He recommends “give more than what is in your CV - try to prove your interest in the job or industry; that will always help you”.
Write your cover letter with the same voice you?d use at a meeting: relaxed, knowledgeable, to the point and with the odd joke or bit of personality thrown in (if appropriate).
You’ve found the perfect job , your resume and references are all lined up and ready to go, and now there’s just one thing standing between you and hitting “send” on the application: the dreaded cover letter.
Very few people actually enjoy writing cover letters (and if you do, please share your secrets). Even if you know the basics (one page, 4-6 paragraphs), it can be tough to dissect what, exactly, an employer is looking for and how to translate that into a few hundred glowing words.
But not only are cover letters inevitable, they’re also extremely important—it’s the only space you have outside your resume to make a good first impression . So if you want to land the job, you should be giving that letter the attention it deserves. Follow these tips, and make your next cover letter stand out from the rest of the stack.
1. Be All About Them
A career counselor once said to me, “say not what the company can do for you, say what you can do for the company.” Although you certainly want to explain why you’re interested in a position, it’s best to spend the majority of your letter describing how you will be an asset to the company.
Even when you talk about why you’re pursuing the job, word it in a way that highlights your passion for what the organization does. If you say, “I’ve been engaged in this field for four years through my experiences in…,” that’ll sound much better than, “this would be a great step for my career.” After all, they’re not hiring you to help you out—they’re hiring you to help them out .
2. Be a Copycat
While I know that you have ample accomplishments and abilities—and want to share them all with everyone —not every experience is going to be relevant to every position. So how do you know what to keep and what to put on the chopping block?
Here’s the secret: When employers create a job description, it’s essentially a checklist of the things they’re looking for in an employee. So, in your cover letter, you want to tick off as many of those checkboxes as possible.
In order to make it easy for an employer to see that you have what they’re looking for, mimic the job description—not word for word, of course, but by finding the things that the company is looking for and highlighting specific examples of how you have them. This will help you focus on credentials that are really important—and help the employer focus on why you’re the perfect match for the job.
3. Be Skill-Focused
Most people have a resume that’s structured around the jobs they’ve held, rather than their skills . So turn your letter into an opportunity to highlight on 2-4 of your relevant abilities . Structure each paragraph around one of the skills you’ve chosen to highlight, then write 2-3 sentences about how your experiences specifically showcase them.
Again, you don’t need to worry about covering everything, or even necessarily about being chronological. With this strategy, you’ll avoid repeating your resume—making the most of the space you have in your cover letter, and not wasting the time of your potential employer.
4. Be Specific
Just like your resume , you want your letter to get very specific when you talk about your accomplishments. Give them facts, figures, and numbers. Tell them how much money you raised, how many people you organized, and just how big and impressive your accomplishments are. (The only caveat to this: If your numbers aren’t really large enough to impress the company, leave them out.)
5. Be Yourself
When you’re writing your cover letter, remember that the hiring manager is likely going to be reading a lot of them (and she probably doesn’t really enjoy reading them much more than you like writing them). So, while you want to make the letter professional, you also want to put some of your own personality in it.
You shouldn’t ever step over the line of professionalism , but crafting an engaging letter with some color will catch people’s eyes and make them think, “wow, this would be a fun person to work with.” And that might be just enough to set you apart from all the other qualified applicants out there.
The good news is, the more you write, the easier it becomes. And while you may never list writing cover letters as one of your favorite activities, with these tips and a little bit of work, you’ll be on your way to writing great letters—and more importantly, landing those interviews .