A cover letter is an opportunity to give your potential employer a good overview as to who you are, the reasons you're applying for a particular job and what skills and experience you would bring to the company.
In today’s competitive job market, your cover letter needs to stand out and give you an edge over other applicants. The following tips are designed to transform your cover letter from average to exceptional.
1) Don't Repeat Your Resume
Your resume is a factual document laying out the skills, experience and education you've achieved in your professional career. Your cover letter is not an extended version of this. While your resume should display your successes, the accompanying cover letter should show off your personality, interests and ambitions. The two documents should interlink, but not overlap.
2) Write a Catchy Introduction
Start your cover letter with a strong opening sentence that highlights your experience, work history and skill set. Use this as an opportunity to catch the employer’s attention.
3) Find the Keywords, Avoid the Obvious
The keywords will already be written in the job description and person specification. Some examples might be "experience in statistical analysis," "able to work flexible hours," or "a degree is preferred." Pick up on these keywords and embed them in your cover letter so that your potential employer is certain from the outset that you fit the requirements of the position. Also, avoid obvious statements. Never open your introduction with “My name is … and I'm interested in applying for this job”. They already know your name and know you're applying for the job. Statements like this will make you look clumsy.
4) Link It
If you have a website or a LinkedIn profile, adding this information to your cover letter is a good idea. It means your potential employer can find out more about you in their own time. It allows maximum information sharing without your cover letter becoming too crowded. Websites or professional social network pages that have references from past employers on them are a bonus. Do not link any personal web pages such as your Facebook account to your cover letter.
5) Don't Get Too Personal
It's important to remain professional and keep your cover letter work-focused. Explaining that you relocated to another city because your Uncle was sick and Aunty Nora wasn't able to take care of him anymore is not something that needs to be shared. Everybody has a personal story behind professional choices, but these should remain private.
6) Back Up Claims With Numbers and Statistics, If Possible
Whatever you've achieved in your career, try to use figures and statistics to quantify your successes. For example, instead of writing “I led a social media campaign”, you could write “I led a successful social media campaign that generated 2.3 million followers, doubled our brand awareness and increased the company’s revenue by 6%”. This will give more flavor to the overall letter and intrigue the hiring manager.
7) Can Your Cover Letter Be Read in 10 Seconds or So?
Most cover letters get a 10 second browse before being sorted into an ‘interview’ or ‘reject’ pile. Format your cover letter so that it is easy to digest at a glance. This means keeping sentences short and the font and point size clear. There should be minimal clutter or fluff. It's worth asking a second pair of eyes to look over the letter before you send it to ensure it’s readable and understandable.
8) Let Your Employer Be the Judge of Your Skills
By all means, showcase and discuss your skills. It's your responsibility to make sure your cover letter reflects relevant achievements applicable to the position. However, let your potential employer judge whether these skills are suitable for their vacant position. Do not tell them exactly how your skills will transfer into their business, but offer the opportunity for them to consider this themselves. You want to come across confident and non-assuming, rather than presumptive or arrogant.
9) Include Positive Testimonials
Something to consider including in a cover letter is a reference from a former manager. The testimonial needs to be short, punchy, and should mention an accomplishment that is relevant to the position. It can also be a unique opportunity to tell the reader something about you – such as your friendly persona or ability to work well with others. This gives your cover letter an added dynamic as well as more credibility. Remember, references should always be written by the referee and must be accurate. Anyone who agrees to write one must be reachable by phone or email and be able to support your claims.
10) End With a Call to Action
Don't let your cover letter drift off and fade at the end. Your final paragraph should be strong. It's best to summarize your overall message, highlight key points and end with a call to action. After closing your letter on a positive note, request a meeting and aim to proactively move the process along to the next stage. This assertiveness may well get you the interview you've been aiming for.