Securing a job is hard work. As well as scouring the web for vacancies and maintaining contact with a cohort of recruiters, you often need to spend hours applying for individual roles. Some employers ask candidates to fill in bespoke application forms. However, most ask for a resumé and cover letter. Simple, right? Not necessarily.
It can be difficult to gauge how long your cover letter should be, what tone to adopt, and how much detail you should include in relation to relevant work experience. Fortunately, by adhering to a few simple steps, you stand a fighting chance of outshining other candidates.
Before you start applying for jobs, it is a smart idea to design a template for your cover letters. Obviously, using the same cover letter for multiple vacancies is unwise, as employers may see the generic content as a sign that you're uninvested in the job. However, if you are applying for a handful of similar roles, it's likely you will want to touch on the same set of personal qualifications for each one. Try drawing up a template that will be easy to tailor and contains your proudest relevant achievements.
It is easy to forget that the hiring manager receiving your application is a social being just like you. Beginning your letter with "Dear Sir/Madam" or "To whom it may concern" may suggest you didn't put much legwork into your application. When managers are receiving hundreds of resumes, this can result in yours being overlooked immediately. Addressing your potential employer by name is a great way to show that you have done your research and are eager to meet them. If you want to keep things formal, you may wish to include their title. However, if you are unsure of whether they are, for example, a "Ms", "Mrs", "Miss", or even a "Dr", then you may want to use their full name, as there is no point in risking offense. These details can often be found on company websites or career platforms like LinkedIn.
Don't simply repeat the information laid out in your resumé — it won't make for enlightening reading. Instead, use the resumé as a jumping-off point to go into more depth about your relevant experiences and qualifications. Try to reflect on the importance of your experiences and explain how you will use everything you have learned to excel in the advertised role.
The first sentence of the cover letter is by far the most important, as it can be enough to either hook or bore your potential new employer. While you should avoid cheesy aphorisms or awkward puns, feel free to let your creative side out. For example, you could start with a snappy line about your passion for your field, using interesting facts and figures to illustrate your point. Just remember to keep sentences short and clear while cutting out superfluous information such as your name or title. They will know this from your resumé. In other words, don't lead with "My name is John and I am interested in this position."
Many job seekers use their cover letter as an opportunity to tell employers about how a new role will help to advance their career or allow them to tick off some life goals. Generally speaking, however, employers are more interested in what you could offer the company, rather than the other way around. Try to think of yourself as an asset up for grabs, and craft your cover letter accordingly.
New graduates and job seekers looking to enter new fields often find themselves concentrating on their academic achievements. This can be very tempting if you are not well-established in your career, particularly if you have achieved very high grades. Unless you are applying for an academic role, however, employers will want to know more about your real-world experience. If your employment history is short, try to think about transferrable skills you may have picked up in extra-curricular or volunteer contexts or, at least, life skills derived from your classes.
Again, people who are relatively new to the career realm are often inclined to use phrases such as "Although I am yet to gain experience in..." and "Despite my lack of knowledge surrounding...". Avoid this type of apologetic language. Employers will be well aware of any potential gaps in your experience. Most would rather you highlight your ability to learn or draw parallels between other experiences and any new ones you might encounter. Not only does outlining these comparisons show your capacity for the job, but it can also indicate your intellectual prowess.
Employers love to see evidence of career success in the form of verifiable figures. If you helped to drive unprecedented levels of web traffic in your last role or, helped your previous employer turn over huge amounts of revenue, do not be shy about pointing this out. It will certainly pique the interest of recruiters. Your cover letter is a safe place to brag a bit — humbly, of course.
Different hiring managers will expect different tones in applicants' cover letters. If you're applying for a trendy new role in a tech start-up, for example, you can afford to use friendly and somewhat informal language. If you're applying for an executive position in a successful law firm, however, you will need to keep things formal and very polite.
Once you have completed the first draft of your cover letter, ask a friend to proofread it for you. Typos look very unprofessional and, as with salutations, could be enough to get your application thrown out. You should also try to edit it down to a single page. Recruiters don't have the time to read the epic novel of your life's story, so make their job easier by keeping things short and sweet.
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