How to write a great job cover letter

How to write a great job cover letter

The words ‘Please attach a cover letter with your CV’  will send the knees trembling and the heart racing for most Office Professionals.

Just as most CV’s are jam packed with the “same old boring narrative and clichés”,  so are 95% of covering letters. The biggest mistake most people make is that they repeat virtually what is on their CV and use phrases and language that come straight from a diplomacy robot.  The readers eye glaze over in boredom as no one is being real and engaging and demonstrating their USP and value propositions.

Are cover letters relevant and read these days?

In short yes, they are but to a certain point and in a way that most don’t expect or understand.

A key reason a covering letter is asked for is to determine how self-aware and on the ball the candidate is. Companies want to see how keen a person really is and if they are just shooting off their applications without care. As most covering letters are pretty vague and uninteresting there is real opportunity for any professional to use them differently so they can convert to more interviews (along with having a cracker CV also).

The making of a great cover letter

A great job cover letter must be aligned and relevant to the challenges within the role and company and show a snippet of your personality. If you are applying to a recruiter you won’t necessarily know who the hiring company is, but you can still align it to the “industry” and role.  Unless you do that you will be just “part of the pack” and the reader will be thinking “boring” – hmm, they are just ticking and flicking”.

Trust me here – as an ex-recruiter, I could tell within two lines if it was a tick and flick job without care and alignment.

As an analogy, think of walking up to a cosmetic counter in a department store and looking at a new lipstick. The sales person instantly remarks “those lipsticks are selling very well”.  In your head you will be thinking “SO WHAT” – does the color suit me?, does the ingredients used in it solve a problem I have with wearing lipsticks?

The reader of your cover letter will generally feel the same way with a generic thoughtless cover letter.

So be ‘personal’ – make the reader feel that you really understand their issues and that you are keen to explore working for THEM, not just anyone.

Elements of a great job cover letter

The job cover letter/note can be in a separate attachment or in the body of the email.  If you don’t know the name of the recruiter/hiring person – PHONE and try to find out.  It demonstrates great “initiative”, which every company wants in an employee and shows that you will go above and beyond.

NEVER  address  “Dear Sir/Madam” or “To Whom it May Concern”.  If you just can’t find a name – be creative.

The Who, What  and How

Who

Brief introduction of yourself and a positive comment about why (i.e. your desire) you are applying for this role, and/or company. You don’t need to repeat “you are applying for as advertised on XYZ ” – it will be obvious in your heading and reference. And you want to have a killer first paragraph” to “whet the appetite” and make you sound “different”

Include a brief overview of your background – and I mean brief – 1 to  3 sentences is just fine – because your CV does the talking in depth. Don’t waffle!

What 

Address in a conversational tone the needs of the position – ie what are the problems/ issues that this position requires to be solved/ developed etc.

If applying for roles within your current industry you will have intimate knowledge of the challenges and market issues already. If applying to an industry where you don’t have that same level of knowledge – research prior.  Most industries will face the same core issues– market penetration and reputation, sales acquisition and retention, staffing, training, PR, financial governance, cost saving, profit maximisation, logistics,  suppliers and partners, board and shareholder returns, client acquisition, and loyalty etc.

How 

How can you align your experience to resolve those problems or issues. Include a few “cracker” examples of your past experiences and achievements to demonstrate what you could bring to the role.

Key Words

All the Who, What sections must contain and reflect the key Wwrds from the actual job advertisement and/or position description and be aligned to what you bring.  Don’t overuse them – use intelligent discretion and application.     Now having suggested this,

Don’t overuse them. Use intelligent discretion and application. Now having suggested this, it’s unfortunate that the vast majority of PD’s and job advertisements are clichéd and full of generic babble. Writers of job adverts and position descriptions are not professional writers and often just “cut and paste” without much thought.  But they do read CV’s and job cover letters.

Also, larger organisations and bigger recruitment firms have a range of HR technologies that scan CVs and letters to draw keywords.  So you must sprinkle the relevant keywords outlined in the advertisement to ensure your application is not overlooked by predictive and culling technologies.

Be brave and stand out in your applications in 2017.

Sue Parker

Sue Parker is the founder of CV Dynamix - Australia’s pioneer of human-voiced resumes and humanised job search coaching. After 11 years running a recruitment agency and many years prior in media and sales training Sue founded CV Dynamix in 2014 to offer clients a unique and powerful way to get interviews and land the jobs they wanted.

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