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Write an Effective Cover Letter
How to get that interview you deserve? A brilliant CV is essential but your cover letter might make all the difference. Here are the top 3 ingredients to write an eye-catching cover letter. But first, let’s remind ourselves about what a cover letter is and what role it plays.
What is a cover letter?
It is a concise letter – no more than a single page with plenty of space on the sides, top and bottom filled with 3-5 paragraphs which, in turn, do not each exceed 4 lines of text to keep that airy feel – that you send together with your CV when applying for a job. If it is well done, it will help your CV get noticed by creating a good impression and generating interest for your professional achievements.
Your cover letter is both a prequel and a sequel to your CV. On the one hand, it introduces the CV, wetting the reader’s appetite about your capabilities – if not, your CV will end up in the bin. But it is also, and I appreciate that this may sound bizarre, a sequel: because the cover letter never goes into the level of detail which the CV addresses, it is therefore only an interpretation of the information you share in your resume.
What it is not is a repetition: if it were, the risk would be that the CV might appear boring to the reader and they won’t finish it. A last word: some cover letter advice will suggest that you feature in your letter information which is NOT in your resume. I disagree strongly: my view is that anything you mention in your letter will be elaborated on in your CV. You don’t want to awaken your reader’s interest and then not satisfy it.
Which role does it play?
Let’s not beat around the bush: the cover letter plays a crucial role in terms of winning that job interview you aspire to. That short piece of text introduces you in the context of a role for which you believe you are qualified.
It is written in simple English to eliminate any risk of misunderstanding, confusion or irritation. You will find advice about cover letters which recommends making them formal: I say make your letter respectful – of your reader’s time and intelligence. And respectful of you – your track record, the time you invested and the care you took when applying.
Remember also that your cover letter is the only opportunity for a bit of personal touch which your CV cannot do. Unlike a CV which convinces about your abilities, a cover letter can convince about your enthusiasm for the position, show your high level of interest as well as your sound knowledge about the role.
Top 3 ingredients to a successful cover letter
1. You open with why they should hire you.
Explain clearly what role you are writing about. Refer clearly to the position you are applying for (including, possibly, where you saw it advertised or where you learnt about it) so as to leave no doubt in your reader’s mind what job this letter is about.
But of course you are not writing just because you happened to see an ad or hear about XYZ position: you mentioned the position to make it clear which one you are discussing but, more fundamentally, because you are ideally suited to it.
You need to say this – in one or two sentences tops – up front. This sets the tone for the rest of the letter. You are not writing about a job, you are writing because they need you. If you make your case well, your reader will not be able to help looking overleaf at your CV and you will be one step closer to the interview.
2.You tell them what you can do for them and how.
Now follows a series of 2-3 short paragraphs which elaborate on your suitability. This part promotes your achievements as a professional and, if you feel confident enough to mention those too, your qualities as a person. This is the part which interprets the CV as I wrote above. In substantiating how your capabilities meet their requirements, take care to echo some of the words of the advert or job description: that will make the connection between you and the job all the clearer and stronger.
Remember my “so what?” question when I was discussing CV writing? It’s valid here too: a cover letter is short, so you need to be even more selective about what you mention there. So don’t just tell them what you can do: illustrate how you work with references to past achievements. This means you start telling your reader a story – a story whose end is in the CV if they want to find it out.
3. You close with a bit of flourish.
A lot of cover letters end by thanking the reader for their consideration (of you as an applicant). That is all right but your reader won’t take any notice of this formulaic conclusion. So let me advocate a short paragraph ahead of this “Many thanks for your consideration & kind regards” type of mention before you sign: a short paragraph so you re-state your case for getting the position. Just like you cannot have repetition between the cover letter and the CV, you cannot either have repetition between your opening statement and your closing paragraph. This means that some degree of creativity may be called for and this represents a delicate exercise – so delicate in fact that many dare not. But if you do and you succeed, you will stand out from your competition: for that reason, and given the state of the market, let me therefore encourage you to give this challenging exercise a go at the very least. The right kind of pizazz will enhance your reader’s opinion of you.
A final word
Some cover letter experts recommend you mention that you will follow-up and to give an indication of when you will do so and how. My view is: do mention that you will follow-up because it shows this application matters to you given that you believe your skills are a match. Following up makes perfect sense and shows your commitment to this overall effort. Do say how you will be in touch but do not mention when – I think that makes you look just a tad too keen.
There you have it: a review of the role of a cover letter in a job application process together with a 1-2-3 approach to putting together a text which will catch your reader’s eye. How does that land with you? I am sure you have written many cover letters: does this sound like what you are doing? And if not, I hope my suggestions will have provided food for thought.
© Coaching For Inspiration, 2013
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