So, you’ve worked on your CV and it’s a thing of beauty, it showcases your skills, and covers your employment, volunteering and extra-curricular activity with aplomb. You’re rightly proud of it. The bad news is that you can’t relax yet. The job advertisement asked for a CV and cover letter! Here are my tips to get that cover letter to the same glittering standard.
1. Write in a standard formal way.
I thought this template was pretty good as a starting point. Stick to this format even when the application is going by email. I would attach both this letter and the CV to a very short message, along the lines of “I am applying for the post of x and attach my curriculum vitae and cover letter.”
2. Tell the employer what you want.
Start with either a heading “Application for the post of …” or a straightforward statement, “I am applying for the post of…” You need to show that you are someone who can get to the point. Don’t leave the employer wondering what you might want, he or she might just stop reading in frustration.
3. Explain why you want the job.
This is where you demonstrate the detailed research you have carried out into the employer’s business. It isn’t as uncommon as you might imagine for employers to get letters which explain, “I want to work for (insert name of company) because…” While this approach really is the fast track to the rubbish bin the generic letter isn’t going to fare much better. You don’t have much room to showcase your research, so focus on some simple things, try to link research back to you. You want the employer to feel that the research has informed your decision and that there could be a real synergy between you and the organisation. Here’s how you might approach it:
Recent news items
“I have lived for several years in Moscow and speak fluent Russian. I was delighted to see that you have recently opened an office there, I hope that this would give me the chance to put my linguistic and cultural knowledge to good use.”
“I was delighted to see that you have been nominated for a Stonewall award. I was treasurer of the LGBT Society in my second year at university and am committed to working to create a more equal society. I want to be part of an organisation which shares my aspiration.”
Culture of the organisation
“I know from talking to your graduates that your open plan offices facilitate a co-operative and non- hierarchical work place, where everyone’s opinions are valued. I would love to join such an open and creative company.”
4. Pick some of your key skills and write about them.
What makes you special? This is not the moment to repeat the CV. You need to elaborate on key points and show how your achievements are relevant to the company. Often it’s not what you’ve achieved, but how you explain it that matters. Completing a tough outdoor activity like the Three Peaks Challenge isn’t necessarily going to make you a better desk bound employee. However, if you talk about the resilience and determination you showed, and your meticulous attention to detail in planning the expedition, you might be on to a winner! You might also be able to showcase those all-important marketing skills by talking about how you went about raising sponsorship and the phenomenal amount that you raised. Better still if your chosen charity was one supported by the target employer!
Make sure this section doesn’t slip into arrogance. Of course you have to sell yourself but there is no need for superlatives or a surfeit of power words. Keep it business-like and relevant and you’re likely to have more success.
5. Keep to a page and round off politely.
Normally a cover letter should not exceed one page. You need not to pick a font size so small that you have the graduate recruitment team reaching for the magnifying glass. Don’t abandon margins either. Your letter should look neat and smart on the page and there should be some white space around to make the whole thing easy on the eye. Your final paragraph can be something as short as:
“I hope to hear from you further.”
There’s no need to thank the recruiter for taking the time to read the letter – that’s their job! You can also leave out details of when you’re available for interview, if the employer wants to see you, they’ll invite you and it’ll be down to you to try to make yourself available.
6. There’s no such thing as a successful generic cover letter!
Start from scratch each time and make sure that you demonstrate your interest in this particular employer and its business.
You might also want to look at our blog on speculative cover letters, you’ll need to approach writing them in a rather different way.