Not every job will request a cover letter as part of the application process, but it’s still relatively common so it’s worth knowing what it is and what is expected of you.
The recruitment process usually starts with some sort of written application which the selection panel will use to cull weak applicants and create a short-list to proceed to an interview. Maximise your chances of making the cut with an excellent cover letter.
What is a cover letter?
The purpose of the Cover Letter is to introduce yourself, explain the reason for your interest in the specific position you’re applying for and emphasise why you’re the best person for the job.
It should be brief, a few paragraphs tops, all fitting on to one page. You’re not re-writing your Curriculum Vitae (all the technical stuff they’ll need about you is already there) just bolstering those details, showing off your written communication skills, and trying to pique their interest enough to put you in the “yes” pile.
What should I include?
The general convention of a cover letter will follow a structure along these lines:
- First paragraph: state the position you are applying for and where you saw it advertised.
- Second paragraph: tell the selection committee why you’re interested in the job/company/organisation, and why you’re a good fit.
- Third paragraph: emphasise any experience and skills you have that you feel would be strengths for the requirements of the job, and how they would benefit the company/organisation. What are your unique selling points?
- Last paragraph: sum up what you’ve tried to express in the above paragraphs, make it clear you’re eager to progress to the next stage of the recruitment process (e.g. interview), and thank them.
- It’s better to be succinct and to the point than wordy and waffling on. Show off your excellent communication skills by sticking to the relevant information and expressing yourself and your ideas clearly.
- If you know the name of the job contact use their name in the greeting, rather than a non-specific sir/madam/whom it may concern. It shows you’ve paid attention to the small details
- Tailor your application to the organisation by doing some research – look up their values, mission statement and goals. Could you really fit into their culture and plans for the future? Have you got the skills they are specifically seeking in their advertisement? Persuade the selection panel to consider you by including these facts in your letter and highlighting how you excel in the areas they’re seeking.
- Use real life examples of what you’ve done to back up any claims you make about communication, team work, time management skills etc.
- It’s ok to brag a little bit, don’t be too reserved #humblebrag
- Spelling and grammatical errors. No excuses! Proofread and spell check or you’re straight in the “no” pile
- Formatting errors. Similarly, it’s very easy to check you’ve got the layout right. Getting the presentation wrong shows a lack of care and doesn’t make a good first impression.
- Using the same letter for every job. While it may seem tedious to write a different cover letter for each application recruiters can see a generic template from a mile away. Even if you feel as though you’re applying for millions of jobs take care to write uniquely about why you’re applying for each particular one – they will really appreciate your research into their company/organisation.
Don’t copy, but yours should look something like this: