In today’s competitive job market, a cover letter is not simply a polite introduction to your CV. It has a vital role in letting the recruiter know that you are willing and able to perform the role for which you’re applying. Never skip a cover letter – it could be the difference between a fast track to the reject pile and securing that much-wanted interview.
So, what makes a cover letter great? Join us as we take a look.
Uncover your fit
Before writing your cover letter, go back through the job description. What skills and experience is the recruiter looking for? A good cover letter will demonstrate at a glance how you meet the key requirements of your targeted post.
Imagine the recruiter sitting with their headline checklist of requirements in one hand and your cover letter in the other.
Does your letter make it easy for them to tick off their list?
Does it demonstrate that you are willing and able to do the job?
Your cover letter isn’t a place to rewrite your CV but you should pull out the highlights. Be clear, succinct and focused on what the person reading your cover letter is looking for. If you write with the recruiter’s needs in mind, you will be one step further to ensuring you are shortlisted for interview.
Uncover your motivation
Make sure that your cover letter conveys your passion and interest for the area in which you plan to work (not just that you want to earn more). You can illustrate this through elective degree modules, work placements, voluntary work, and other interests, even if you’re just starting out in your career. Demonstrate your motivation by talking about any key experience that has enabled you to develop and use the skills that are relevant to your desired job.
Reveal the value you add
A great cover letter will show that you’ve researched and understood the role for which you’re applying, and that you have an idea about how the company operates and its vision for the future.
Your cover letter needs to make it easy for the recruiter to picture a future with you in it, by revealing the value that you can bring to the role and the organisation.
Cover the basics
There are some basic elements that every cover letter should include if it’s not going to be dismissed out of hand.
- Write to someone, not anyone (ditch the ‘Dear Sir or Madam’)
Beginning your cover letter with ‘Dear Sir’, ‘Dear Madam’ or – worst of all – ‘Dear Sir or Madam’ tells the recipient that you did not care enough about the job or your application to find out his or her name.
It only takes a phone call or quick Internet search to get the name of the person to whom you are writing. Don’t miss the opportunity to make your first impression a positive one. When you do find out the recruiter’s name, check the spelling and make sure you get it right in the letter.
If you really must start your cover letter with ‘Dear Sir / Madam’, remember to sign it ‘Yours faithfully’ as you can only be sincere if you know the person’s name!
- Be clear and concise (stick to one page if you can)
Your cover letter should ideally be a one page, easy to read document. Recruiters are up against the clock, which means they don’t have time to plough their way through reams of information. Keep your message clear, succinct and on target. The harsh reality is that it is likely to end up in the bin if it does not grab the reader’s attention within the first few seconds.
Write your cover letter, put it to one side and then come back to edit it. Have you used ten words when you could use five? Is there a simpler way of conveying your point? Is it easy to pull out your key message?
Remember too that your letter may be screened by someone more junior than your target reader. Tell a story of your experience and value without lots of complicated jargon.
- Use an active voice
A good cover letter must be more than a list of skills or experience. To make it engaging, aim to use an active voice and simple, straightforward language. The active voice uses verbs to indicate a motion or action, and it makes your writing more dynamic and interesting. It lets you take responsibility for your achievements, rather than suggesting that you sat passively by while they occurred on their own.
- Proofread, proofread, proofread
Before you send out your cover letter, proofread it several times. Don’t just rely on spell check because it may not pick up a typo like ‘main’ instead of ‘man’ or ‘their’ instead of ‘there’.
If you can, get someone else to proofread your cover letter too. Two pairs of eyes are better than one and, when we proofread our own work, we often see what we think we’ve written, not what’s actually on the page.
- Coordinate with your CV
Coordinate your cover letter with your CV in terms of language, presentation, formatting, type face and size. It will demonstrate your attention to detail and present your application as a cohesive whole.
- Make it easy to contact you
Your cover letter should clearly state your contact details (including telephone numbers and email address) at the beginning, and reiterate your number before closing the letter.
Consider replacing your email address with something more grown up if your current one is silly, wacky or just inappropriate. It’s important to give a professional impression from the outset.
- Sign your letter
In this digital age, adding your signature to the bottom of your letter gives a strong signal of your authenticity.
A final word about the cover letter as application form
It is not uncommon for recruiters to forgo or complement an application form by asking you to use your cover letter to address each point of the person specification, outlining in detail how you meet the role requirements. In this situation, having to write a detailed person specification may make your cover letter two to three pages in length. However, the points above still apply. Be clear, concise and focused on why you’re writing and what that information means to the recruiter.
Above all else, your cover letter is worth spending time on. It can definitely be used as a first point of evaluation for recruiters, and an integrated letter and CV application can make all the difference to your chances of selection.