A cover letter expands on your CV and explains why you’re the right person for the job. Here’s how to make the most of the opportunity
by Bethan Rees
When applying for a job, you might be asked to submit a cover letter. While it’s important that your CV is striking, a cover letter is just as important. Natashia Larkin’s post for CV Library says: “Your cover letter shouldn’t be a regurgitation of your CV. Instead, it should zoom in on a few key skills and experiences on your CV that the employer values the most.”
Although there is no clear-cut formula for a cover letter, there are some basic rules you should follow.
Do your research
Writing on reed.co.uk’s blog, Amber Rolfe highlights a few important details to pin down before you start. Establish what the company does, who its target audience is, who its competitors are, what the role involves and the essential skills required. This information should help build the foundations of the cover letter.
A blog by Glassdoor suggests that research will help to dictate the tone of the cover letter, which could differ from company to company. “For example, the tone of your letter for a legal consulting firm will likely differ from a tech start-up,” it says. Bright Network, a graduate careers site, reiterates this point. “A really formal, corporate letter isn’t always the best way to stand out, particularly for more creative roles. A more informal, chattier approach can be more effective – look at the language used in the job advert, the copy used on the company’s website to get a better measure of this and look to complement it.”
As with a CV, you should ensure that the information in a cover letter is tailored to the job specifications. Recruitment website Hays suggests going through the job description and underlining the keywords. “Search through your own career history for specific examples of how you can demonstrate you have what the employer is looking for,” the post says and gives an example. “The advertisement might say: ‘This position requires an outgoing person with demonstrated capacity to work in a team’. The keywords here are ‘outgoing’, ‘demonstrated’ and ‘team’. Show you meet these essential criteria to increase your chances of an interview.”
Larkin advises against being vague and generic and refers to another CV Library article about buzzwords that should be cut from CVs, such as 'motivated', 'passionate' and 'specialised'. “Each cover letter you write should be tailored specifically to the company and role you’re writing it for and should be detailed. Therefore you’ll want to avoid vague and generic phrases.” She also recommends finding out the name of the hiring manager or the person who will be receiving the cover letter and addressing it to them. “This way you can make the letter even more personal, and it will prove you’re a determined candidate who wants this job.”
Don’t include everything
The Glassdoor blog says that a cover letter should be a “carefully curated selection of stories from your career” that will help give the recipient of the letter an idea of why you’re the right person for the job, instead of cramming your whole career into one letter.
Rolfe gives a rough guideline of the type of information you should be including and recommends a structure to follow. “The opening paragraph should be short and to the point, explaining why you’re getting in touch”. Following this should be the reasons why you are a suitable candidate for the job, matching your professional and academic qualifications to the role and making sure it's relevant, referring to the skills in the job specification.
The third paragraph, according to Rolfe, is an “opportunity to emphasise what you can do for the company”. Here, expand on relevant points in your CV and why they work for the job being advertised and include examples to back up your skills. The fourth paragraph should be a call to action, for example, to be considered for the role, and the final full paragraph. “Reiterate your interest in the role and why you would be the right fit for the role,” she writes.
If you know the name of the person you’re addressing, you should sign off with “yours sincerely”, and if you don’t, it should be “yours faithfully”, followed by your name.
Be mindful of the length too. Alison Doyle, a job search expert at The Balance Careers, says: “If it is way too short, employers might think you do not care much about the job. If it is too long, employers might not take the time to read your letter, and will not consider you for an interview. Your cover letter should be no longer than one page. If you're sending an email, it can be even shorter.”
Finally, don’t think of a cover letter as a chore, it could be the deciding factor between getting an interview and not.
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