You could have the most qualified, awe-inspiring résumé on earth, but a boring cover letter will ensure you remain jobless.
The cover letter introduces you to the recruiter in a personal way. It briefly highlights your strengths and expresses your interest in the position.
Recruiters often discard 80% of applications based on the cover letter alone. If you want the recruiter to even glance at your résumé, your cover letter has to impress.
Put yourself inside the head of your employer. If you had a huge stack of applications in front of you, what kind of cover letter would make you place a candidate in the “maybe” pile? What mistakes would place an application straight into the trash?
Writing a stand-out cover letter employs the same techniques as writing a marketing campaign or sales letter. This time, you’re selling yourself. Here are some tips for writing professional cover letters that stand out.
Cover Letter Structure
The cover letter follows the standard business format. Your letterhead, followed by the date, than the name and contact details of the person you’re applying to, then the address, then the content, followed by your name and contact details again.
A cover letter should be succinct and straight-to-the-point. It should never be more than one page long.
Let’s start at the beginning, with the Address.
If at all possible, find the name of the person you’re applying to. You may need to ring the company and ask an HR representative to give you the name. Writing “To whom it may concern” or “dear recruiter” sounds like a form letter, and you want to avoid that impression at all costs.
If you’re not sure of the gender of the recruiter (remember, names like “Leslie” and “Alex” can be used by either sex) use their full name instead of Mr. or Ms. In the first paragraph of your cover letter, include the title and job number of the position you’re applying for.
Mention where you heard about the job – especially important if someone in the company suggested you apply or you personally talked to the recruiter.
Don’t use wishy-washy sentences like “I feel I could do well in this position” or “I’m interested in applying”. Explain that your qualifications and experience make you an ideal candidate for the job.
The Meat of a Stand-Out cover letter
A cover letter is essentially a short, snappy sales document for a never-before-seen product – you. You write a cover letter in the same way you write a sales pitch or direct mail letter – by explaining benefits, not features.
In your second and third paragraphs, highlight one or two key qualifications / experiences that you’re particularly proud of and directly apply to the position. Your cover letter shouldn’t be a wordy re-hash of the content of your résumé.
If you can, highlight a particular achievement (brought in three new major contracts for my last agency), or someone who can give you a strong reference (I’ve worked as a freelance developer for Darren Bloggs, who I understand is a client of yours. Darren has been enthusiastic about my work and can give me a strong reference).
You will probably need to research the company and position before writing this section, as you’ll better be able to demonstrate your enthusiasm and commitment to the company.
Don’t overuse “I” and “me”. Try not to focus on why you want the job. Instead, demonstrate why you will be an asset to the company.
For every application you write, change up these paragraphs to personalize your cover letter.
In the final paragraph, reiterate your interest in the job, and thank the recruiter for their time. I like to say “Thank you for your consideration and I look forward to hearing from you.”
Use a professional closing like “Yours Sincerely”. After your signature, rewrite your contact information.
Email Cover Letters
When applying for wed industry jobs, you’ll likely be sending résumés and cover letters off via email. Follow the same rules above and take advantage of these additional tips:
Use the subject line of your cover letter to grab the employer’s attention.
Some companies regard all messages containing unsolicited attachments as spam. If your application isn’t acknowledged, you might need to include your résumé and letter in the body of the email.
Fonts, formatting and graphics may appear differently on the recruiter’s computer. For the best results, write your cover letter in plain text.
Sending Unsolicited Applications
Perhaps there’s a company you’d really love to work for, but they don’t have any advertised openings. You can get your foot in the door by sending an unsolicited application, and following up that application the following week.
It’s especially important that an unsolicited application demonstrates you’ve researched the company and know which type of role you’re best suited for.
In your final paragraph, state that you’ll call to follow up on possible job postings. You can even give a date and time. Don’t forget to follow up!
Quick Cover Letter Tips
- Include your full name, address, telephone number and email at the top of the form (your letterhead)
- Date the cover letter
- Include a reference to the job you’re applying for.
- Use a clear, easy to read font, and nice white paper. Your cover letter should in standard business format, preferably in a standard serif font like Times New Roman (research suggests serif fonts are the easiest to read in hard copy). Fancy fonts and colored paper stand out, but for all the wrong reasons!
- If you’re sending your cover letter via email, send a copy to yourself first to ensure it comes through correctly.
- Don’t forget to proofread. Have a friend or family member read through your letter to catch anything you missed.
With a sharp, snappy cover letter and a well-rounded résumé, you are sure to find plenty of job opportunities, even in today’s crowded marketplace.