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 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 learnt 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.
- Date and contact information. Include your full contact information so you’re certain the organisation has it, don’t just rely on your email address making it cleanly through an email trail. Always include a date, so that your communication has a solid reference and can be found for queries in the future.
- 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 organisation and ask who to address your communication to. It demonstrates thoroughness and professionalism.
- Opening. This paragraph is a formality and will be scanned, not read. Keep it short and sharp. The reader will say thank you and move forward, and that’s exactly what you want. Write two or three lines stating: what you’re applying for; the ad reference or source; that your resume is attached; that you believe you are a solid choice for the role.
- Middle. This is the key section of your cover letter and the only part that will actually be read. Construct an inducement to open your resume. Concentrate on why you’re implicitly better than every other applicant. Write: an opening paragraph of three or four lines showing what qualifies you to apply; a few bullet points (ideally three) which show your added-value; and three or four lines which suggest the contribution you could make to the challenges of the role.
- Closing. Make this section two or three lines long. Say thank you for the consideration and make it clear that you would welcome the opportunity to discuss your application, if it’s felt you’re suitable. Don’t use a hard sell, it may be seen as disrespectful so it’s not worth the risk on a job application, and always sign off formally.
- 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-centred 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?”