How to Write a Cover Letter
A cover letter will often be the first impression a recruiter or potential employer has of a prospective candidate. And first impressions count! So how do you make sure that your cover letter is making the right kind of positive impact with recruiters?
Firstly, you may be wondering, "Do I even need a cover letter?" Well if you think of a resume as your facts and figures, that serve to positively influence a recruiter on a logical basis, then your cover letter is your pre-emptive sales pitch that allows you to sell yourself on a more personal basis, and to put a human face to all of those facts and figures.
Another analogy would be if you were to walk into an interview and sit down without saying a word. Then proceed to dryly answer all of the interviewer's questions and then get up and leave. Even if you were to answer all of the questions correctly, you would have made a much better first impression if you'd walked in with a smile, a warm greeting and a handshake.
So your cover letter can be thought of as your personal introduction and handshake, on paper. And a survey of recruiters found that 67% of them felt that a cover letter was essential. Even the 33% that felt that they're not, are highly unlikely to penalise you for submitting one (unless that particular job application process specifically asked you not to submit one, which would be rare). So if you want the best chance of making a powerfully positive first impression, then submitting a cover letter will probably be in your best interests.
So how do you write a cover letter? And more importantly, how do you write a cover letter that will give you an edge over the competition? Below are a list of our top tips for writing a winning cover letter. If you have any questions regarding any of the information, you can contact us any time, and we'd be happy to help. Or if you'd like one of Prime Resumes' professional writers to take care of all the hard work for you, then you can check out our range of affordable services HERE.
1. Be Specific
Your cover letter should be targeted and relevant to the position that you're applying for. Merely stating a list of personal skills or attributes that you have won't help a recruiter or employer to envision how hiring you will help them specifically. For example, if you're enthusiastic, you might describe how your enthusiasm enables you to create strong bonds with clients and stakeholders, who appreciate your passion for shared positive outcomes, which enabled you to increase sales at your last company by XY%.
You may have heard of the importance of matching the "keywords" in your resume and cover letter, with the keywords used in the job description. This will then allow any ATS (Applicant Tracking Software) to scan your documents and flag you as a potential match. If you tailor and target your cover letter and resume to the advertised position, then this keyword matching will be easier to achieve.
Targeting also applies to the industry or job type that you're applying for. For example, a recruiter looking to fill a position in retail will be very interested in your specific customer service skills and background. Where as a recruiter looking to fill a data entry position, will be much less interested in your customer service skills as they will be in your proficiency with various integrated technology systems. So make sure that your cover letter is tailored for each application.
2. Avoid Generic Greetings
If you remember above, we said that your cover letter was your personal introduction and handshake on paper. So it's important that you don't ruin the personal aspect of it, by referring to the recruiter or hiring manager as "Dear Sir/Madam" or "To Whom It May Concern". If you know the employer or recruiter, then make sure to address your cover letter to them directly. If you don't know, then you need to find out.
This can often be as simple as making a polite phone call to the company's HR department. Or their contact details may even be listed in the original position advertisement. Alternatively you can try good old Google or the company's website. Or you can try connecting with people who already work at the company that may be able to point you in the right direction. The social platform LinkedIn is great for this.
It really is worth going to a little extra effort to make sure that your cover letter is as personal as possible. It will also help you to stand out against other applicants who didn't go the extra mile.
3. Do Your Research
Whilst researching the name and contact details of the hiring manager or recruiter, it's a good idea to do some background research on the company that you're applying to work for.
Being able to talk confidently about a company's culture and some of their current projects, will go a long way to impressing recruiters. Both, in your resume and cover letter, and in the interview.
It'll also help you to make sure that your cover letter is relevant to the company, as well as the position. And it may help you to identify specific areas where you can add value to the business, or identify a problem that you can solve.
4. Keep It Short & Sweet
Your cover letter should be no longer than one page. Recruiters that have to process hundreds of applicants don't want to spend all day reading about your life story. All they want to know, is how are you going to provide value to their business, or solve a problem that they have.
Research suggests that you'll only have the average persons attention for about 6 seconds. So you need to be able to sell yourself fast. Your cover letter should show them that you tick all of the required boxes, and how you can benefit their company, as efficiently as possible.
5. Tick All The Boxes
While it's important to keep it personal, your cover letter also has to include certain content to make sure that you're addressing all of the information that the recruiter will need to make a decision.
The body of your cover letter should include the following...
- A statement outlining the position you're applying for. Many companies have multiple positions advertised at a time, and some recruiters will do recruiting for multiple companies. So don't take it for granted that they will know which position you're applying for. You want to make sure that your application ends up in the right hands.
- What your key skills are and why they make you the perfect fit for this job. Remember you need to be able to show how you add value or solve a problem the company has. But keep it personal, like you would in a normal conversation. Save the bullet points for your resume.
- A short summary of your experiences or achievements that demonstrate your skills. For example, while working with company ABC, I was able to increase customer satisfaction ratings by XY% utilising my customer care initiative.
- Why you would like to work in this role or for this company. Why you think you would be a good fit within their company culture (this is where a little research on the company can help you to add substance and be specific).
- Finish up with a call to action. Something like "I look forward to having the opportunity to discuss with you how I believe my skills could benefit your organisation". This is effectively putting the ball in their court, and letting them know that you're waiting eagerly for them to get in contact with you. If you're a little more forward, and it's suitable to the type of position being applied for, you could go with something like "I will be in touch within the next two weeks to see if you require any further information from me". This kind of approach can come off either bold, or presumptuous. So be careful how and when you use it.
- Sign off with a thank you to the recruiter for taking the time to read through your application (hopefully they've made it this far). Followed by "Yours sincerely" or "Kind regards" and then your full name
6. Don't Forget Your Contact Information
This seems like a no-brainer, but it's something that's often forgotten. When it comes to contact details, you want to include the same information on your cover letter as you do on your resume. Name, phone number, email address, and residential address are the minimum. But you should feel free to add links to your LinkedIn profile, or other relevant networking profiles as well. And keep in mind that an email address like firstname.lastname@example.org may not do you any favours, in terms of creating a positive first impression. So update to a more grown up email contact if necessary (this can still be on a free domain such as hotmail or gmail). If you choose to provide links to social media accounts, make sure that these too, are going to present you in a way that you would be proud to be seen by potential employers.
7. Try To Be Consistent
Generally your cover letter will accompany your resume in an application. If possible, try to make sure that your design and layout are consistent between the documents. This will show an attention to detail and professionalism, and also help to make your application package more memorable.
8. Follow Up
This advice applies to any job application. If you haven't heard anything within a couple of weeks of lodging your application (or within a couple of weeks of the close date for applications) you should follow up with the recruiter. It's imperative that you ensure your approach is polite and patient. The last thing that you want is to come across as rudely harassing a recruiter, that's still in the process of sorting through hundreds of applications. Or you could find yourself shuffled out of the pile.
Following up with the recruiter can have a couple of positive effects. Firstly, it shows that you're pro-active and use your initiative. And if this is done politely and professionally, you'll be remembered for that too. This is unlikely to turn a firm "no" into a "yes", but if the recruiter is still sitting on the fence, then it might help to tip the scales in your favour.
Secondly, if you weren't successful with your application, you may not hear back at all. Often organisations will receive hundreds of applications, and it isn't always feasible for them to contact each applicant to let them know their individual outcome. By courteously contacting the recruiter, they may be able to let you know why you weren't successful this time, so that you can close any gaps for future applications
9. Don't Over Complicate It
A final note on writing a cover letter (and this applies for resumes as well). Try not to get flustered by over complicating it. Put yourself in the employer's shoes. They have a position to fill, and they have an idea on the kind of skills that the ideal candidate would possess to be able to fill this role successfully. And you can see what these are by reading the job description in the advertisement. Your mission is to try and demonstrate on paper that you have these skills, as well as others that you feel would benefit the employer.
If someone at a party asked if you could ride a horse, (and assuming you could) you might say "Yes, I can. I ride regularly at home, and recently competed in an event, where I won first place in my class". This would likely leave the person with little doubt about your riding capabilities. You need to apply the same simple principal to applying for a job. For example, an employer may be looking for someone with experience in Excel spreadsheets. If you had this experience, you would list it as a skill, and follow it up with a situation in which it was used. And specifically how you've used this skill to benefit previous employers.
Hopefully this list of winning cover letter tips can help you to make sure that your next job application is stronger than ever. If you'd like any more advice, or to see what Prime Resumes can do to help you make the most of your next career opportunity, then you can check out our range of services and helpful free job hunting resources HERE.
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