Writing a top-notch cover letter can be a challenging and time-consuming task, so it is tempting to skip this process in cases where the job advertisers do not request one. Newsflash! Resist that temptation!
In a sea of applicants, your priority in every job application you send out should be to Stand Out. You will indeed stand out if you follow our cover letter top 10 tips today.
Therefore, you should almost always attach a cover letter (or E-Note if you’re sending via an email) to your job application whether the advertisers requested explicitly for it or not. The only exception would be if the advertiser instructed you not to send one.
The reason for attaching a cover letter to your application is because the CV will hardly do justice to selling your candidacy. The cover letter allows you to make the prospective employer see how your experience and skills align with what the organisation seeks.
Hiring managers, especially those involved in recruiting candidates in the IT industry, .Net developers, and others, will agree that the recruitment exercise opens one up to a myriad of cover letters – the good, the bad, and the ugly!
I’ve seen these in my over 33 months of recruiting .Net Developers for the London IT sector at Star Jobs Recruitment.
I’d posted about this sector previously, and it’s even more attractive in the wake of the COVID-19 reality where most people can work from home.
Trust me, 98% of professionals write poor cover letters, so learning what it takes to create a good one is a must if you desire to have a cover letter that’s hard to be unnoticed.
1. First things first, you should know precisely what a cover letter is for.
If you miss this, you’ll go wrong nine out of ten times when writing your job cover letter.
As an employability coach, I often advise job seekers to pay attention to such salient questions. Once, while recruiting, I remember asking two candidates a question:
“If you had to choose between two interviewees – one with high scores in technical/hard skills and experience but less of soft skills like effective communication, interpersonal skills, passion, etc. and another candidate who scores less in technical/hard skills and has a high percentage of the soft skills; who would be your best pick?”
You see, hiring the right candidate goes beyond what is being stated on the curriculum vitae (CV).
Matter of fact, the CV is simply an overview of a candidate’s qualification, skills and experience. Hence, the CV is almost always not enough representation of the fitness of a candidate.
If it were, hiring managers would not be requesting for cover letters. They wouldn’t even need interviews, and all that is required is to advance from reviewing CVs to issuing job offer letters.
The non-technical skills listed above are traits you wouldn’t often explicitly put on, say, your bullet points as you would do the hard skills such as programming, numeracy or accounting competencies.
Therefore, you must use your cover letter to paint a picture that you possess these ‘soft’ skills.
2. How about the opening line?
A simple opening sentence is just as excellent. You don’t need a grand opening. Stop worrying too much about looking for a super creative one. Do you need to write the opening line as a Nobel laureate in literature? Not necessarily! The following examples are just as suitable:
I’m interested in your project manager role because…
I’m writing to apply for your project manager position
I am writing to express my interest in the recent posting for the project manager position
I’m excited to apply for your project manager position
I was excited to learn about your need for a project manager
I’d like to be considered for your project manager position
I am a business college graduate, and I am excited to start my career as a project management professional
3. Refrain from regurgitating your CV.
It is a common occurrence for some candidates to subtly restate their CV contents in their cover letter by simply replacing words with synonyms. As a rule of thumb, you are not expected to recap your CV into your cover letter. However, most applicants do it, thus, flouting the first rule of cover letter writing.
My recommendation is that rather than merely dwelling on showing your basic work experience, use the letter to make a case for your suitability and state why you’re a better fit for the role.
For instance, if the job requirement includes the qualified candidate being someone disciplined and hardworking, and you had overcome a challenging upbringing, say, growing up in a crime-prone area but still managed to keep your head above the waters and finished school in flying colours, talk about this in your letter.
You see, the structure of the CV may not allow for such personal narrative, but the cover letter gives you such a superb opportunity to show this side of you of getting things done through discipline and hard work.
Again, let’s say your former supervisor told you that you had been her best data analyst or came to depend on you as her go-to staff anytime she had work emergencies.
Perhaps you have a penchant for understanding human psychology and typically handles angry customers well.
Maybe the senior staff of your organisation sees you as a problem-solver, or you’re great at resolving complex issues where you break things down to their first principles.
You would know that these kinds of details show the stuff you bring to any job in such a way your CV can not state, categorically. It, therefore, becomes in your best interest to articulate these in your cover letter.
To drive this point home, think of a situation where someone asked you to write an email about why you’d be a great employee at a job. Will you start by reciting your work history so rigidly? No! You’d probably be talking about what you’re good at and how you’d do the work. Right?
That’s what you need in your cover letter!
4. It helps to use the hiring manager’s name. If you don’t know his/her name, here’s a great hack.
It’s almost always ideal for addressing your letter to a specific name (e.g., Dear Miss Bella Whitefield). The secret benefit to this is that it not only shows that you have taken the time to research the company to know who the hiring manager is, you also have your letter addressed to a specific audience in mind
As trivial as this detail is, it could make you stand out of the crowd. At least, you will not be using the generic “Dear Sir/Madam.” However, if after your due diligence, you still can’t find a name; you’re at liberty to address your letter to the position.
For example, ‘Dear Recruitment Team’ or ‘Dear Hiring Manager.’ You do not have to get to work yourself up about how you MUST find the exact name.
Name or not doesn’t move any needle toward your being invited for an interview if the body of your letter is without the right substance!
5. Showing is always better than telling
Ever heard of the saying, “action speaks louder than words.” It’s empty and a little insignificant to state that you’re hardworking, a great communicator, or committed, and have strong interpersonal skills.
Those statements hardly hold water because they are not measurable.
Instead, it’s better to show precisely how ‘you’re those attributes’ by stating your achievements and experiences that demonstrate the traits or skills.
Consider the illustration below:
Compare these two statements.
- “I offer exceptional attention to detail, highly developed communication skills, and a talent for managing complex projects with a demonstrated ability to prioritise and multitask.”
2. “In addition to being flexible and responsive, I’m also a fanatic for details — particularly when it comes to presentation. One of my recent projects involved coordinating a 200-page grant proposal: I proofread and edited the narratives provided by the division head, formatted spreadsheets, and generally made sure that every line was letter-perfect and that the entire finished product conformed to the specific guidelines of the RFP. (The result? A five-year, $1.5 million grant award). I believe in applying this same level of attention to detail to tasks as visible as prepping the materials for a top-level meeting and as mundane as making sure the copier never runs out of paper.”
The earlier sentence is generic, dry and unconvincing.
However, the latter is more captivating and thought-provoking and believable as well.
And fewer people write their cover letters this way. A majority write like the first example above.
6. Are there grey areas about your candidature? Address them.
You need to offer contexts if your candidature has unusual situations such as ‘over- or under-qualification’ or you’re changing careers.
If you don’t provide a compelling context upfront, the hiring manager can think you’re unfit for the role.
So, a cover letter gives you a shot at saying, “No, wait a minute, dear hiring manager— here’s the reason my situation could still be a strong match for the position.”
For instance, suppose you’re overqualified but still enthusiastic about the role as it fits into your next career plan, then explain it upfront.
Conversely, if you’re under-qualified, but you strongly believe that you can perform on the role, buttress that also.
Furthermore, suppose most of your experiences were in another field, but you’ve been retraining to switch to the role they advertised presently, highlight that and give reasons for the change. Explain how you can transfer your experience and skills to fit perfectly in the current position.
7. Avoid ‘form cover letters’
Sending a generic, same-letter-to-all-places is a sure bet to failure.
Think of it this way: if any other candidates can send the same letter you’re about to click ‘SEND’, then, it’s not good enough.
So, you must tailor your letter to the specific organisation. It must take some pound of flesh from you researching some specifics about the organisation and incorporate the same into your letter.
What current project or charitable works are they doing that resonate with you? Talk about that as well as how it fits into your ambition.
8. Always one page; keep it concise; thank you!
Hiring managers, recruiters and employers take it as almost a ‘given’ that job cover letters should be one page.
If you write two pages, you’re probably over-writing. On the other extreme, writing two or three short paragraphs might give you away as an uninspired candidate.
Too much brevity can equally give the impression that your suitability is shaky or not fascinating enough. To some extent, it also shows that you have fewer interesting things to talk about.
9. Your tone should be conversational and heartfelt
If you need to show some personality and humour, go ahead.
Although in some conservative fields such as the legal profession, it is safer to maintain a formal tone.
However, today’s better-written cover letters must have some level of warmth and ease of expression.
You don’t have to sound as though you are a programmed robot. Making your letter conversational gives it a human touch and allows the hiring person to know your personality better.
Write as you would do to a colleague you like so much although you don’t personally know too well.
10. Don’t stress over the petty details
If you want to get six interviews from a dozen of job cover letters you’ve sent out, then write personalised letters.
It will achieve better results than sending three-dozen generic cover letters.
Like I will always say, anything worth doing is worth doing well.
You ask, ‘should I attach my cover letter or put it in the body of the email?
My answer is, ‘attach it, thanks.’ Cos, it can help maintain the formatting on the letter. If the receiver wants to share your documents, it’s easier for them as well.
So, don’t stress too much about these minute details. Worry more about the contents and make them super enjoyable to read!
‘What should I name the letter?’
Naming it ‘Cover letter by Bella Rowland’ is fine. It makes your letter look courteous. Avoid naming it ‘cover letter’ because others who do it wrongly like this might have such file names as well.
In all, however, no one cares whether you named it correctly or not, it’s the contents that push the needle.
So, worry less about the insignificant details!
Start using these cover letter top 10 tips today!!