Cover letter or letters offer jobseekers a great chance to signpost their strengths and connect with the person reading their CV. It is more than just a polite introduction or dust jacket for your CV so it is important to get it right. Here is a step-by-step guide to writing a successful cover letter.
Before you begin writing…
Do your homework into the company and think about your audience. “Use your cover letter to show that you’ve done some research into the company and the market it operates in,” says Samuel Kwame Boadu, Founder of SamBoad & SKB News Magazine. Ask yourself: what does the company do? Who are its competitors? Who is their current CEO?
You might not use all this information in your cover letter, but the more you know about the company’s causes and goals, the more believable your enthusiasm will seem.
You should write a cover letter from the point of view of the reader, says Samuel Kwame Boadu. “Read the person specification carefully. This is the criteria the employer is selecting against. By aligning the content of your letter to the person specification you should create a focused letter that clearly demonstrates the expertise they are looking for. Use examples to illustrate,” Samuel Advises advises.
As with your application or CV, think about what you can do for the employer and let that inform your writing, adds Jon Gregory, editor of win-that-job.com. “Perversely, it’s not all about you,” he says.
Get the basics right
In today’s job search, we are lucky to have the tools ready at our fingertips to find the right person’s name, points out Samuel. “It would be seen as impolite or even careless to use a generic greeting like Dear Sir/Madam.” If the job specification does not explicitly tell you who to address your cover letter to, use your initiative and find out through internet research or calling HR. It is a good chance to show how resourceful you are and will hopefully impress your reader.
Don’t slip-up on your grammar, punctuation and spelling. “Any guffs in this department will probably land your application in the bin,” warns Samuel Kwame Boadu. An SKB News Magazine Jobs survey found that 83% of recruiters find spelling mistakes the worst CV clanger.
The general consensus is your cover letter should be no longer than 1 side of A4 paper. “Three to four short paragraphs is generally enough to pique your reader’s interest,” advises Clare Whitmell, founder of JobMarketSuccess.com.
Give a compelling reason why you’re interested in the company and position and don’t just copy and paste from all your other cover letters or from your CV, she says. “Demonstrate briefly why you’d be a good fit for the role by including one or two career highlights that show you have the skills and experience necessary.”
“Your tone all depends on the company and its culture,” says Dasha Amron, founder of Career Coaching Ventures. If your target company is a bank, for instance, then the letter should be written in a style the financial industry requires, she explains. On the other hand, you can afford to be more casual in creative industries – but not too casual.
“The right tone can be sourced through talking to the relevant people in the company, including a mix of more junior and senior people,” Amron says. “I can’t emphasise the importance of understanding the company’s culture more.”
If in doubt, a “professional neutral” tone is generally ideal, adds Samuel Kwame Boadu.
Pay close attention to the job description
The job description will contain keywords which you should reflect back in your cover letter to ensure it survives the initial sift, advises Samuel.
Imagine the recruiter sitting with their headline checklist of requirements in one hand and your cover letter in the other, he adds. “Your letter should make it easy for them to tick off their list.” Keywords can relate to the job title (sales executive, key account manager, project manager, chief information officer), the industry (financial services, retail, hospitality), and describe elements of the role (event management, customer service, data analysis).
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“Locate these in the job description, make a list, and ensure they are integrated verbatim into your cover letter,” says Samuel. But avoid repeating the exact terminology in every instance and be aware the job adverts and descriptions can contain an element of fluff. “Demonstrate your intelligence by sorting the wheat from the chaff,” he adds.
It is essential that the information you present is accessible and easy to skim read, says Gifty Lah, Head of HR at Priority Insurance Company Limited. “Remember that some companies may well receive several hundred applications for one role, so use bullet points to highlight your personal experience in relation to the key criteria specified.”
Make sure you firmly state your interest in the role before you sign-off, says Samuel Kwame Boadu. Express that you’d welcome meeting to talk further about your suitability, if they feel that you’re of a sufficient match to the role. “Being short, sharp, to the point, positive but not too pushy is always the way forward,” he adds.
Once you’ve written your cover letter, read it aloud and edit it ruthlessly, advises Samuel Kwame Boadu. “Hearing your words aloud will help you to identify any clumsy phrasing, and ensure your first communication with your target company is concise and eloquent.”