A cover letter is a letter of introduction in which you present yourself to your prospective employer. Of all the documents that form part of your application, it will probably be the first document that will be read. It has to be clear, self-contained, compelling and a good read the first time around.
You should always send a cover letter with your job application, unless you’re told not to. Even a short, but thoughtful cover letter can make a difference. For reasons why you should send a cover letter, see: Should I Send a Cover Letter?
Address Your Cover Letter to the Right Person
It is important that you know who to address your cover letter to. Imagine yourself reading a letter that is intended for you, but that fails to mention your name. Not good, right? Find out the name of the person who will have the final say on who gets hired and address your cover letter to that person. Mentioning his or her name in your cover letter makes you instantly more relatable.
Tailor Your Cover Letter
Now that you know who to address your cover letter to, you need to show that he or she is your center of attention. In order to do that, you must tailor your cover letter to the specific position you’re applying to.
Avoid sending generic cover letters. They just scream “I’m not that interested!” To the contrary, you’re interested! That’s why you’re applying! Don’t send mixed messages. Be consistent all the way. Beyond tailoring your cover letter, research the position, the organization and the industry. Knowing what to emphasize is key as well.
It is preferable to apply to less positions, but spend more time on each application. You just need one job. Rank the ones that interest you most and focus on them.
Complement Your Resume
Your cover letter is there to introduce your candidacy and lay the path for the recruiter to later look at your resume in more detail. A good cover letter will keep the reader interested and wanting more. This is what you want to aim for.
Your cover letter goes hand-in-hand with your resume. It should therefore also match the look of your resume.
Refer to key aspects of your candidacy without repeating what is already in your resume. You don’t want to sound redundant. For instance, you can mention your key achievements and how they qualify you for the position. If you’ve made your point, the recruiter will take a closer look at your resume. Thus, you only need to highlight key aspects of your candidacy in your cover letter or, in other words, wet the reader’s appetite.
Read this article on how to format your cover letter: Choosing the Best Cover Letter Format: When to Use Bullets, Paragraphs, and/or Tables
Address the Key Questions
A cover letter is more often than not a letter of introduction coming from a total stranger. Thus, you need to ease your way in by giving some background about yourself and mentioning why you’re interested in the position. Then, you can go to the substance of your cover letter and address the key question of why you are a good fit for the position.
If there are issues that may hinder your candidacy, now is the time to address them. Whether you’ve been away from the workforce for a few years, are changing industry or are relocating, address the issue succinctly and move on. You don’t want to sound defensive or like you’re trying to justify yourself.
You may have reservations about your candidacy or think that you lack some qualifications. However, it’s not for you to decide for the recruiter. You just need to put your best foot forward. It’s up to the recruiter to decide if there’s a potential fit and invite you to the job interview.
Your sentences should be clear, precise and impactful. How you convey your thoughts is as important as what you’re trying to convey. Your cover letter needs to be eloquent. How do you get there? Keep your sentences short and stick to the point you’re trying to make. Impress with the simplicity and clarity of your sentences. You don’t need to use fancy words. Your cover letter should be an easy read the first time around.
Close on a Strong Note
Stay positive and consistent throughout your cover letter. As you conclude, reiterate your interest in the position. Ask for the job and the opportunity to contribute to the organisation.
Not Too Long
Your cover letter should not be longer than one page unless you have very good reasons to go beyond. Keep your cover letter succinct and relevant. Remove all that is not necessary. Including irrelevant information in your cover letter will only dilute its impact.
How do you know if something is relevant? If it helps advance your candidacy. If not, then it’s probably not relevant or important enough to include in your cover letter.
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IF YOU'RE NOT SURE HOW TO GO ABOUT WRITING YOUR COVER LETTER, HERE ARE SOME STEPS
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If Need Be, Get Help
Last but not least, if you don't feel capable of writing a good cover letter, you should consider asking someone to help you. You only have one chance at making the right impression. The fact that you don't have good writing skills does not necessarily reflect on your capabilities. It should therefore not hinder your prospects of landing the job that you deserve.