A cover letter serves two important functions, says recruiter Emy Unger. It introduces and sells you. Putting your best foot forward means sending a thoughtful, distinct letter, so consider these nine tips:
1. Keep it short. The ideal cover letter is about half a page long, and never exceeds one page. A concise letter demonstrates that you are focused and have strong communication skills. Aim for two to four brief paragraphs.
2. State the position. The recruiter who reads your letter may be hiring for several posts. While candidates who e-mail their resumes often include the job title in the subject line of their e-mails, if the recruiter prints a letter out before reading it, such information may be lost. Clearly state the job title in the first paragraph of the letter, preferably in the first sentence.
3. Explain why you want the job. “Candidates should always answer the question ‘Why do I want to do this work?’” says Unger. Ask yourself how the position fits into your overall career plans and what you find exciting about the particular sector. A genuine show of enthusiasm and knowledge will set you apart from those sending generic form letters.
4. Clearly describe ways you will contribute. According to Andrew Posner, a career counselor and website consultant in San Francisco, this is the most important element of a cover letter. After carefully reading the job description, write a paragraph outlining one or two specific examples of how your skills and experiences will fit the company’s needs.
5. Match, but don’t reiterate, your resume. This is one point many job seekers find tricky. You should never claim experience in your cover letter that isn’t reflected on your resume. Doing so makes you look like a liar. At the same time, your cover letter shouldn’t simply restate your resume. When you explain the ways you will contribute, refer to an experience or skill on your resume to show how you will add value to the company.
6. Don’t say you’re not qualified. Even if you think the position is out of your reach, your job is to convince the recruiter you are qualified. If the recruiter thinks you’re unqualified, a confessional letter is not going to get you an interview. Keep the letter positive by focusing on your transferable skills and unusual accomplishments.
7. Keep the tone and content professional. “Don’t be a comedian, don’t get really personal, and don’t beg for the job,” says Unger. Recruiters are more likely than not to think your attempts at humor or stories about your personal life are just plain weird.
8. Tell the reader what you’re going to do next. Too many job seekers never follow up after sending a resume. “Saying what you’re going to do next is the second-most important thing to do in your letter,” says Posner. “It forces you to make a commitment to action.” If the job post lists a phone number, indicate you will call within a specified time to arrange an interview. If not, consider calling anyway, unless the post specifically requests “no calls.” You may also consider a follow-up e-mail if you sent your resume electronically.
9. Proofread. Again. Using a spell checker is not enough. Many recruiters will dismiss even the most qualified candidate if there’s one typo in the cover letter or resume. Reread your letter two or three times, then give it to someone else who knows a thing or two about good writing. Even if your letter is free of typos, poor grammar also makes a bad impression.
About the Author
by Amber Rolfe
Never underestimate the power of a cover letter…
Although often overlooked, cover letters can be one of the main deciding factors when it comes to helping your application stand out. But what should (and shouldn’t) you include?
To point you in the right direction, here are five of the most common cover letter mistakes that could be costing you the job:
Using the same cover letter for every single job
If you’re guilty of sending identical cover letters for every single role, stop. It may save you time, but it won’t get you the job.
A stock cover letter equals generic phrases and offers no specificity about the company, industry, or role you’re applying for. You might also be including a wealth of information that isn’t even relevant to the job, only indicating a lack of genuine interest, not to mention laziness, to most hiring managers.
Instead, always refer to the job by its title and description, and explain how your skills could benefit the specific company (not just the industry as a whole).
After all, the employer wants to know how you could be an asset to them personally, and aren’t likely to be impressed by anyone who assume all roles and companies in an entire industry are on the same level.
Do say:‘I’ve been following *correct company name* for many years now, and your success in X and Y makes you stand out from your competition in the X sector. I believe my skills in Y from *specific projects* could help your company thrive further in its need for a *description of job title*.’
Don’t say: ‘I think I’d be a great fit for this position at *wrong company name*, and am keen to enter this thriving industry.’
Being overly personal
Maybe you’ve been unlucky in love recently. Maybe you’re struggling with money. Or maybe your ‘lucky interview socks’ got a hole in them, inevitably causing your most recent job interview rejection. Life is tough sometimes, we get it.
But that doesn’t mean this information is cover letter friendly. It’s never OK to talk about your personal life, or share irrelevant details on a professional document, and it definitely won’t improve your employability. Other personal topics such as talking about the reasons for leaving your current job, overly detailed justifications for career breaks, or badmouthing your boss also fall firmly under the ‘do not mention’ category.
So, keep it to the point, and focus on the job you’re applying for.
After all, nobody’s going to fall for the ‘pity vote’. They’re recruiters, not counsellors.
Do say: ‘During my seven years of experience in *specific field*, I have gained skills in X, Y, and Z. A recent example of this included *recent success in achievement, project, or task*, and I strongly believe that they could be utilised to help *company name* succeed in their mission of *company mission statement*.’
Don’t say:‘I left my last role on bad terms. My boss always had it in for me, if I’m honest.’
Making it all about you
Always remember that your application isn’t based on what you want. It’s all about what the employer wants.
Sure, you should talk about your achievements, skills, and experience – but only if they relate directly back to the vacancy you’re applying for.
Avoid detailing your hopes and dreams, and don’t explain what you’d personally get out of the job. Because a cover letter isn’t about being able to fulfil your objectives, it’s about proving to a recruiter that you have what it takes to fulfil theirs.
Place emphasis on what they’d get out of employing you, whilst explaining how your specific skills could help them, and you’ll be far more likely to impress.
Do say: ‘My enthusiasm and dedication to *field name* has resulted in me acquiring of a range of different skills in X and Y, proven most recently by X. This role requires a wealth of knowledge on Z, and my *relevant quantifiable experience* directly proves my in depth understanding and expertise in this particular area.’
Don’t say:‘I’ve always been interested in entering the *field name*, and I’d like to gain further experience and build on my current skills. It would also be a great opportunity for me to do what I love.’
Drawing attention to your weaknesses
A recruiter isn’t interested in what you can’t do – they want to know what you can do.
If you’re lacking in experience in certain areas but have strengths in others, then just focus on your strong points. Negativity has no place in a cover letter, so if it doesn’t prove why you should get the job, it’s probably not worth including.
Additionally, confidence is key when it comes to job hunting, and a recruiter is unlikely to be blown away by anyone who doubts their suitability for the role. You’ll just be drawing attention to your application for all the wrong reasons.
Remember: if you don’t think you have the right skills for the job, it’s unlikely the hiring manager will.
Do say: ‘My experience in *specific field* has given me the transferrable skills in X and Y…’
Don’t say: ‘Although I don’t have any experience in *specific field*…’
Being too keen
Enthusiasm is good. Desperation is not.
Your application alone tells the recruiter you’re interested, so there’s no need to go overboard with unwarranted eagerness in your cover letter. Begging for the job isn’t going to add anything to your selling potential, and if you appear overeager, the recruiter will just assume you’re not actually that high in demand.
Instead, be enthusiastic about the position you’re applying for, and why you think their organisation would be a great company to work for. But try and keep all over-the-top adjectives and hyperbole to a minimum.
Because there’s a fine line between showing a genuine interest and trying too hard…
Do say:‘Your recent successes in X and Y attracted me to your company, and as the market leader in Z, *company name* stood out to me…’
Don’t say:‘This is my absolute dream job. I want it more than anyone else, and I know for a fact that I’m the best person for the role.’
Honourable mentions: using clichéd phrases, failing to proofread, underselling or overselling yourself, being arrogant, lying, talking about salary expectations, including a headshot.
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