Your cover letter is an opportunity to impress. Get it right and a hiring manager will open your beautifully crafted resume with relish and a sense of optimism. Get it wrong and they’ll open it grudgingly, or not at all. Even in today’s digital world, cover letters in whatever form remain as relevant as they’ve ever been. Here’s how to get yours right.
What is a cover letter?
In sales, your best route to a new customer is through a personal referral from a trusted source. Use your cover letter to refer yourself and your resume through, so that you’ll have an opportunity to sell yourself. This is a ‘first-impression’ moment. Establish trust by making your cover letter fully meet the expectations of the reader. Write a cover letter to generate a jaw-dropping ‘Wow!’ experience and motivate the reader to open your resume.
How to structure your cover letter
The same principles you learned when crafting your killer resume apply to your cover letter also. (If you need reminding, check out our article: How to write a great resume). Below is a proven framework on which to hang your content.
How to start to write a great cover letter
To create an effective opening to your cover letter, follow these steps:
1. Contact information.
Include your full contact information so you’re certain the organization has it, don’t just rely on your email address making it cleanly through an email trail. Your email address should create a professional impression. Don’t use an email address like firstname.lastname@example.org. Always include a date, so that your communication has a solid reference and can be found for queries in the future.
2. Salutation / greeting.
Be formal and use ‘Dear …’, not ‘Hi’, at least until you have a well-established dialogue with someone. Write to a named individual, it shows respect and you’re more likely to get personal attention. If necessary, ring the organization and ask who to address your communication to. It demonstrates thoroughness and professionalism.
3. Opening part.
Your opening paragraph will make or break your chances with the hiring manager. You want to keep it short and sweet and get to the point. At the same time, you need it to stand out and grab the attention of the reader. This paragraph is your chance to capture the attention of the hiring managers and make them want to read more.
Generally, your opening paragraph should address three main things. These include how you find out about the position, your experience, and what you can bring to the company. For example, a simple opening paragraph may sound like this:
“ I was excited to see that [Company Name] was hiring a sales manager skilled at tapping into new markets and growing the customer base. I have been to many of your company’s networking events myself and always found invaluable connections. With over five years of experience attracting new customers and promoting brand loyalty, I believe I would be the perfect fit for this role.”
4. Middle part.
Once you have the attention of the hiring manager, it is time to convince them you are the perfect fit for the role and company. The body of your cover letter should highlight why you are more suitable than other applicants, and why the company is right for you. Essentially, this is the most critical part of your cover letter.
In the second part of the body, expand on why you chose this particular company. Explain why you would like to work for them – have you attended their events? Did you like their marketing campaigns? Mainly, show that you are genuinely interested in the company, and don’t be afraid to point out what in particular you like.
Then, tease what you could bring to the company as an employee. Base this on your experience and recent news about the company. For example, propose a solution to a problem they have been facing. Show the hiring manager that you are valuable and would fit right in.
5. Closing part.
Much like in an essay, your closing paragraph should summarize your main points and conclude your cover letter. In other words, your ending should be short and to the point. Thank the hiring manager for consideration and reiterate your excitement about this opportunity. When summarizing your experience, focus on the value you would bring to the company.
Finally, don’t forget to structure your closing paragraph as an offer. You have explained your value in the body of your cover letter, now offer that value to the hiring manager. For example, tell them how excited you would be to discuss how your area of expertise could help the company grow. However, avoid trying to sell yourself too hard. Sometimes, this can be seen as disrespectful and could decrease your chances of getting the job.
6. Complimentary close and signature.
Use ‘Yours sincerely’ if you have a person’s name at the start. If you’ve started with ‘Dear Sir’, or similar, use ‘Yours faithfully’ to sign off. On a document, include a copy of your signature, even if it’s just an added image, and put your full name below it. If your cover letter is an email or an online form box, sign off with your full name, not just a first name.
What to include in a great cover letter
Success lies within the effort you put in. Revisit your previous resume research and use it to inform and tailor your content.
- What does the company do, what are their products, who are their customers?
- What markets do they serve, what challenges do they face, who are their competitors?
- What does the role involve, what are the objectives, what skills do you need?
Concentrate on the following points:
- Write to a named person. If necessary ring HR, ask who to address your application to.
- Show some added value. Have you got an extra skill or experience not asked for, but which would be highly valuable?
- Appeal to underlying needs. If you understand the hiring manager’s problems you can focus on presenting skills or experience that would help.
- Show your personality. Be a focussed business-like professional, but show genuine enthusiasm and a reason why you love this market, product or job.
- Use key-words. If they want a widget manager and you say, “I’m a widget manager,” you’re halfway there already. Play to their highlighted desires in the job ad.
- Include contact details. Don’t rely on your email address making it cleanly through an email trail.
What not to include in your cover letter
- Don’t repeat your resume. Present added value and hooks into your resume.
- Avoid hyperbole and exaggeration. Don’t say, “I’m excellent at …”. Who says?
- Don’t get off-track. Irrelevant words waste time and disappoint the reader.
- Don’t beg. Emotional pleas show you as self-centered and are a turn-off.
- Leave out your life-story. That’s in your resume, effectively.
These comments are captured from recruiters, HR professionals and hiring managers who receive lots of applications. They’re busy, with little patience.
- “I want a brief factual note about your potential, not why your kids need a holiday.”
- “I don’t care about your career. I do care about what you could do for our organization.”
- “Don’t cut and paste paragraphs, tailor what you say to us.”
- “Proof-read your cover letter. You might have a great resume, but if no one opens it ….”
- “Follow the stated submission procedure. Shall I repeat that?”