Your resume is obviously an important part of any job application.
But here’s what successful job seekers know:
Your cover letter can make or break a job application.
Your resume is important as it sets out your relevant experience and job history. And you should make sure (wherever possible) to tailor it to the application in hand.
But a cover letter (sometimes called a covering letter) is where you can really go into your background, and explain your suitability for the job in depth.
It’s in your cover letter that you can let your credentials and suitability shine.
For this reason it really pays to take the time to write a good basic cover letter and then, of course, tailor it to each and every application you make.
The tips in this article will help you to write a cover letter that will stand out from the crowd in all the right ways.
1. Address the letter personally in order to create a connection
In most cases, professional letters should be addressed ‘Dear Sir or Madam’ and signed off ‘Yours faithfully’.
However, this does not apply to a job application cover letter. Applying for a job is a deeply personal process and as such, ‘Dear Sir or Madam’ should be avoided at all costs.
Most job adverts will contain the details of the person handling the applications process and you should refer to them by name in your cover letter.
Unless you are in a very informal industry, use ‘Mr / Ms Last Name’, at least in the first letter and sign of with ‘Yours sincerely’.
If the advertisement does not refer to a specific person by name, call the company to ask for the relevant details.
You may be wondering: “Why go to those lengths just to get a name?”
Very few candidates ever go this extra mile. Your effort will be noted, recognised and will make you stand out from other candidates immediately.
2. State the position you are applying for to avoid unnecessary confusion
If you are applying to a large organisation, the person running the hiring process most probably has a large number of different jobs that they are recruiting for at the same time.
You don’t want your application to be mixed up, misunderstood, or disregarded because the recruiter attributed it to the wrong job.
Include the job title, and reference number if there is one, as a bold heading just after the ‘Dear Mr / Ms Name’ and just above the letter text.
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3. Explain any supporting documents in your cover letter
As a minimum, you should be attaching your resume with your cover letter.
And along with your cover letter and resume, you may send additional supporting documents.
Examples might include an application form, examples of previous work, proof of educational qualifications, or professional certificates, or any other requested information.
You shouldn’t let the hiring manager or recruiter figure out for themselves what each supporting document is or why you’ve sent it. Explain each document in the body of the cover letter so that it’s clear.
Doing this also means that the hiring manager will know of a document is missing, and can request another copy. If you don’t mention your supporting documents in the letter then any missing documents would go unnoticed.
4. Mirror your target company’s corporate culture
Every company has its own culture and style. This permeates everything about the company from the atmosphere in the office to the descriptions it uses on its website.
Almost all companies are looking to fill vacant positions with people who are a fit for their particular culture.
It is true that some jobs require someone to challenge the status quo. This is typically at a very senior level where people will be head-hunted, and the requirement to ‘shake things up’ will be highlighted in the job description.
Unless that exception applies to you, take the time to think about how the company expresses itself and what values it says are important.
Then try to mirror those in your cover letter.
If a company prides itself on being resourceful and responsive tailor your letter to highlight those values in your own background and character.
For example, try, wherever possible, to use the same phrasing the employer has used when referring to a particular skill or area.
This will make it easy for them to draw a connection between your skills and their needs.
A letter to a company like Google will be more relaxed in tone (though not intent) than a letter to a traditional City of London law firm.
This should feel fairly comfortable and natural you find that you are uncomfortable with the values or culture you are trying to mirror it is a sign that the corporate fit is not right for you.
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5. Let your true character shine through
This might seem to contradict tip #4 above but in fact the two go hand in hand.
As mentioned in tip #1, job applications are a deeply personal process. In the event that you are called to interview always remember that it is a two way street.
You are trying to impress them but they are also trying to impress the right candidate. Hopefully that is you. If you have to put on a front to get a job you will, in all probability, be unhappy in the role.
Your cover letter should aim to give the interviewer an insight into who you are as a person.
6. Highlight how your experience will benefit the employer
Your resume sets out your career history to date.
The cover letter is the vehicle that allows you to explain how this experience can be of particular benefit to the employer. Your background research and a thorough check of the job description and key skills (if provided) will help you to do this.
Don’t make the mistake of repeating your resume point by point as the employer will have access to it.
You should not take too long to cover this section, try to be as succinct as possible while still highlighting why you are the solution to their hiring problem.
7. Don’t use buzzwords or jargon
Of course in some industries a certain amount of jargon is to be expected.
But the person running the initial sift for applicants may not be an industry specialist so it makes sense to only use terms that a reasonably educated and intelligent layman would understand.
This means that you don’t run the risk of talking down while equally ensuring that your letter is intelligible to everyone who might read it.
Buzzwords are a problem for a slightly different reason.
They can make you look like a dull try hard (think about the candidates on the television show The Apprentice!).
No hiring manager wants to hear about ‘team players’ or ‘blue sky thinking’. So instead of using buzzword phrases think about how you can express the sentiments in your own words.
8. Check, check and check again
Your cover letter needs to be absolutely perfect.
That means no formatting errors, no typos and no grammatical mistakes. Once you have completed the letter read it through on screen, then print it and check it again.
If you can, get someone else to check it for you as it is easier to pick up mistakes in someone else’s work. If that is not possible leave the letter for a day (or a few hours if time is short) and come back to it fresh.
When you are happy with the letter save it as a PDF, this will reduce the risk of compatibility problems (for example if someone is using a different version of MS Word or uses a different platform altogether) and ensures that the formatting will not alter.
Cover letter check list
Once you’ve finished your cover letter and think it’s ready to go, just run through this check list to make sure you’ve covered all the tips provided:
- Address the letter personally in order to create a connection
- State the position you are applying for to avoid unnecessary confusion
- Explain any supporting documents in your cover letter
- Mirror your target company’s corporate culture
- Let your true character shine through
- Highlight how your experience will benefit the employer
- Don’t use buzzwords or jargon
- Check, check and check again