Five cover letter essentials

There’s a lot of good, detailed information out there to help you draft a cover letter – not least on our website – but it’s often difficult to synthesise and digest the really key points. Given that many of you will soon be picking up your job search, I’ve decided offer up my own ‘cover letter essentials, packaged in bite-size, and hopefully digestible, form.

There’s no question that recruiter subjectivity plays a part in the selection process, but you can’t always second guess employers – what you can do is present a compelling and persuasive case. Don’t spend all your time on your CV and neglect the cover letter – it’s not an optional extra. If you want to make the short list, read on:

  1. Have a beginning, middle and end. Sounds obvious? You’d be surprised how many people choose not to follow this basic principle. A cover letter is not a rambling stream of consciousness, but a short, concise argument. After all, you’re trying to convince the recruiter you’re worth a second look. Establish what you’re applying for, why you’re applying and how you meet (or even exceed) the role requirements. Once drafted, read your letter aloud – is it coherent and convincing, or weak and woolly?
  2. Personalise it. Adjust what you write to reflect the needs of the company or organisation you’re applying to; employers are looking for enquiring and motivated applicants, not lazy ones! Don’t send a bland, generic letter – you might as well withdraw your application. A recruiter can tell in seconds whether you’ve bothered to research their organisation. Try and find an interesting angle that shows you’ve gone the extra mile in your research.
  3. Showcase your skills and achievements. Employers are not (generally) driven by altruism – they have a bottom line: can you do the job and will you add value? Make sure you address the job spec and provide evidence – with examples – to support your claims. Focus on tangibles, not vague statements. Show and tell. Leave the recruiter in no doubt as to your potential: if you don’t sell, market – and yes, even brand – yourself, no-one else will.
  4. Complement your CV, don’t duplicate it. A cover letter should ‘animate’ your CV and paint a more complete picture of you as an applicant – and potential colleague. A CV is a factual document, and offers little scope to demonstrate your written skills and personality – let your cover letter speak.
  5. Find the right tone. A good rule of thumb is professional, but still personable. You should use a more formal, business-like tone than you would in conversation but try not to sound robotic. Convey an understanding of the environment by using the relevant terminology, but go easy on the management speak. It’s not buzzword bingo!

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