Cover letters come in so many shapes and sizes – we’ve all got different writing styles. Some job seekers find the whole process of writing a cover letter a bit of a chore. And it isn’t easy, especially when you’re applying for multiple positions.
But the reality is that cover letters, along with CVs are often the first impression a potential employer has of you. With popular vacancies, this can mean an engaging cover letter can elevate your application above others. In this article we’ll cover off a few areas of cover letter writing that can make the process easier and allow you to communicate your suitability for a role more effectively.
Avoid generic letters
Writing one letter for all jobs you apply for may seem like a great way to be efficient, but unfortunately employers can tell. How? Lack of content about the specific job, no tying in of skills to the requirements of the position and no understanding of the company in question.
When an employer reads a cover letter that is ‘cookie cutter’ they will immediately question the genuine interest you have in their position. This is likely to put your application at the bottom of the pile.
So how can you reduce time spent on cover letter writing? Well, ideally you do write bespoke letters for each role. But you may find that there is a certain template or format you can use to at least have the structure standardised.
Consider an outline:
- Friendly Intro and stating what you’re applying for
- What piqued your interest about the role and the company as a whole
- How the requirements of the vacancy align with the experience you bring
- Specific background about you that could apply to the role – not just experience but information about you that could identify you as a culture fit etc.
- Where you could possibly take the role and additional things you’d bring.
- Interested to learn more/chat further
- Professional conclusion
If you have the cover letter structured in a standard way you can spend more time writing an engaging pitch as to your fit for the role.
Address the hiring manager personally
This is the start of a conversation (hopefully), so rather than talk to a company, write for the reader. You can find out who the hiring manager is usually within the job listing. If it’s not listed there, a bit of investigation of the company website may give you an idea. If you haven’t found a name after trying everything, you may wish to write ‘Hiring Manager’ or something similar – it’s rare you’ll be unable to source the name.
Writing to someone makes a cover letter more personal and allows you to ask questions and suggest further discussion more naturally in the writing. If you are indeed a good fit, it’s likely the person you’ve written to will call you on the phone and keep the conversation going.
It’s about your fit for the role – not the other way round
Sometimes job seekers will put all the focus on themselves and their own history, neglecting to tie this experience back to the role. Your CV should give the employer a good idea of you but the cover letter is a chance to connect this to the needs of the position. Try to avoid wording like “this job would suit me because I like a results-focused environment” and rather phrase it as “I really identified with [BUSINESS]’s emphasis on results, and believe my work style would complement your values well”.
You’re selling yourself to the employer at this stage. Once you’re in the interview process and shortlisted, there will be an element of the business selling to you, too.
Get to the point and don’t go over a page
Cover letters that are more than a page can make the hiring manager take a deep breath.
We’re sure you’ve got plenty to say but the purpose of a cover letter should really encourage further discussion on the phone or in person. Get straight into your suitability and interest in the position from the start. If you think you need to explain more about your experience, then ask yourself – is this information better for my CV?
Usually it is!
Don’t duplicate what’s on your CV
Which leads us nicely into a common pitfall – simply stating what the employer can already read from a CV. Your cover letter can reference experience outlined in your CV, but avoid going into specific dates and details.
- CV is about you
- Cover letter is about the job
Keep this in mind and you should be okay. Make the CV and cover letter compliment each other – they’ll be read in tandem so read both together before sending.
Be professional but be yourself
It’s really important to be professional and respectful in your cover letter. Overly-familiar can turn potential employers off as rightly or wrongly, written communication is often taken as indicative of your in person manner.
In saying this, you want your cover letter to reflect who you are. It’s an opportunity to show some of your personality and employers will appreciate letters that read well.
Be professional in your cover letter by:
- Ensuring you address the letter to the hiring manager
- Spell everything correctly, especially the hiring manager’s name!
- Checking grammar and structure flow.
- Avoiding overly familiar or colloquial wording.
Bring personality to your cover letter by:
- Using expressive language (although don’t overcook enthusiasm where it reads as artificial).
- Sharing how you feel about the industry, company, line of work or indeed the role itself.
- Having a genuine introduction and conclusion.
- Sharing where you’re at in your current job search, e.g. “I’ve just returned from the UK on a working holiday and am looking to settle back into New Zealand and join a forward thinking company.”
In summary? Show respect but authenticity in your cover letter.
Honesty is the best policy
Much like we covered in our CV mistakes article, telling an inaccurate story about who you are and what you bring is a recipe for disaster. Don’t feel the need to use your cover letter to explain skills gaps either, as your CV will be an accurate reflection of what you bring. Employers will know what gaps there are, but may be willing to consider you anyway due to what skills you do have.
If you aren’t genuinely interested in the job or feel that your skills align well, we’d recommend that you don’t claim they do – and even question whether you should bother applying. After all, you want to find a role that you’re happy working in. Being honest isn’t just for the employer’s benefit, it’s for your long term happiness too!
Get someone to read it first
Writing a letter is one of those things where you can often read it back the way you intended it to read – and not necessarily how it actually does read. Share you cover letter with a trusted friend or family member who you know has a good grasp of English and if possible, letter writing. You may even know someone who receives job applications frequently who can read it and give you useful feedback on how it might be received.
A fresh set of eyes is always a good idea at this important stage of the job application process!
If you’re unsuccessful, ask for feedback on your cover letter
We don’t always get through to the next stage. This can be due to many things, but sometimes it’s just a case of someone out there being a better fit.
Many businesses will gladly provide some feedback if you are courteous about asking for it. Rather than ask ‘why didn’t I get the job’, request some feedback around how your CV and Cover Letter presented and if there’s something you could improve for future applications. You won’t always get feedback but it’s worth a shot – that advice could be invaluable!
Still unsure? Chat to our team
If you’re looking for an IT role, but not sure how to craft a cracking cover letter, feel free to get in touch with our team at Absolute IT. We’ve helped talented IT professionals get their cover letters into shape for 20 years.
Here’s some other great cover letter resources from around the web: