Over the years I’ve had to sift through many many many of cover letters. Some were good, most were pretty bad so I thought that a post providing a bit of guidance on cover letters may be beneficial to the community. In this article I’ll try and share a few tips along with the do’s and don’ts, and hopefully help you write an eye catching professional cover letter. I’ve also put together a corresponding list of a few resources to help you point your cover letter in the right direction.
Okay, let’s start.
What’s the purpose of a cover letter?
To me, cover letter is not mean’t to get you a job or even an interview. In my opinion it is there to get the attention of the person filtering through job applications, enough to want to read through your resume. It’s as simple as that. Well, the concept is simple, but writing one is a little bit of a different story. It’s somewhat challenging to most. I know it was difficult for me when I first started applying for work.
You can also think of it as a formal introduction and keep in mind that it is your first communication with a potential employer. Seek.com.au put’s it quite nicely : “If you were giving a beautiful piece of jewellery to someone, you wouldn’t wrap it in yesterday’s newspaper would you? So why would you go to all the trouble of crafting a fabulous resume, only to send it with a half hearted, poorly crafted covering letter? Well, you wouldn’t. Not if you were really serious about getting that ideal job.”
What goes into a cover letter?
There is no one-size-fits-all cover letter. It should be a reflection of who you are and what you have to offer. When it comes to online jobs it is best to be short and to the point. I find that a slightly narrative cover letter works really well for me as an employer. Sort of like you are conversing with me without actually being there.
Keep it short and to the point. I’ve spoken to a few recruiters and others that filter through cover letters. They usually read only the first two sentences to determine if they want to read further. So make those two lines count!
So let’s break it down a bit. Here are a few core components:
- Address it to someone. If you have the advertisers name then by all means use it. If you want to be a little more generic something like ‘Dear Hiring Manager’ will suffice, or even something as ‘Hello, My Name is …’
- Explain why you are applying to this job. Keep it short.
- What do you bring to the table? Explain this without repeating your resume (they already have that to reference)
- Show that you understand the job description in a few words. (Don’t copy paste the job description or parts thereof). Again, keep it short.
- A closing statement e.g. ‘Looking forward to the interview’
- Sign off. e.g. Kind Regards, Dee
- Do your homework, learn what you can about the employer, try to fit that in. One sentence will do. It shows that you a really interested.
- Personalise your letter. There is no issue having a generic cover letter. But ensure you modify it a bit to ensure it is relevant to the job you are applying for.
- Be specific about your info. Don’t beat around the bush. Remember, your potential employer probably has a ton of these to go through.
- Format your cover letter to make it easier to read. See that list I mentioned earlier. It has links to websites that offer good templates for a variety of cover letter types.
- Be professional yet sound like a human being.
- Follow any instructions provided by the employer. I like to embed a question into the job description. It is my first process of elimination. Those that don’t answer the question in their cover letter gets eliminated. I don’t think I’m the only one who does this.
- Be positive and confident.
- Proof read it. Get someone else to review it.
- No spelling mistakes! Proof-read like ten times! Then proof-read once more just to make sure. I mentioned this here again to stress its importance. I eliminate applicants with spelling mistakes. In this day and age, it is unacceptable to make a spelling error.
- Don’t state your weakness (what you can’t do). You should be a quick learner!
- Don’t use bullet points, as I mentioned above, ensure it is narrative and engaging.
- Do not copy paste stuff, especially from the job description or even from the company website to which you are applying.
- Do not try to sound like someone you are not.
- Don’t be boring to read. Keeping it short and to the point helps.
- Don’t discuss salary. You can negotiate this after you receive an offer.
- Don’t state anything that you cannot substantiate or backup later on. Employers will find out!
- Don’t provide contact details. This should be in your resume.
- Don’t brown nose! I really don’t like this.
- Don’t beg. This is another pet hate. So much so that I wrote a post about how it will cause you to lose jobs.
- Don’t end it abruptly. It’s like hitting the send button before you complete your email.
How long should it be?
This is my personal preference because I don’t have the time to read through everything from of the dozens of applicants. So here is my guide. Others may disagree (and that’s okay). I’d suggest that you write 150 to 250 words divided into 2 or 3 paragraphs.
So in summary, keep it short and sweet, to the point and engaging. If you are still having trouble, check out this list of resources that may help you out a bit.
Do you have any cover letter writing tips? If you do, please do share it below in a comment.