Time to write a cover letter?
I’m often asked for help as Clients are uninspired when its time to write a cover letter. If people find writing a CV a tedious process then often by the time they turn their attention to the accompanying cover letter they have completely lost the will to live! Research undertaken by CV-Library shows that 41.4% of people believe that cover letters aren’t necessary in the search for a new position.
However the Cover letter is possibly more important than the CV itself and is why we always recommend people write a cover letter 3 days after completing their CV. This allows a fresh approach to the letter writing process and will hopefully reinvigorate the writers interest , preventing the standard cover letter that has 3 lines and states “please find my enclosed CV for your review”.
If this is your cover letter, take my advice and bin it, you may as well submit your CV alone!
Why are Cover Letters so Important?
When applying for new position you will either reply to a specific advert or approach an employer on a speculative basis. In both instances an introduction of you and your skill set is required and this is where, if utilised correctly, the cover letter is unrivalled.
I’ve run many recruitment advertising campaigns and have always requested applicants write a cover letter to submit with their CV. Why do that?, I hear you ask. Well for several reasons. Firstly I liked to test whether applicants could follow instructions. You would be amazed at the amount of people who failed to attach a cover letter to their CV as the advert requested.
Secondly it was a useful way to gain an insight into an applicants personality. A CV should be factual document selling your experience and skills and as such should be written in a professional way devoid of personality. Conversely a cover letter is where an individual explains their current circumstances and why they feel they are right for the position advertised. The way someone writes a cover letter can indicate if they are:
Even an incorrectly written cover letter reveals a lot about the applicant.
I recently analysed response figures for a campaign I ran for a Client searching for Commercial Manager. 62% of the applications received only included a CV. Of those that did 47% only had a 3 line letter that referred to the included CV and 32% had clearly used a template letter that they used for any position they had applied for. Only 21% had written a professional letter that was specifically produced for my advertised position.
The underlying conclusion drawn from the research above is clearly that if you want to increase your chances of securing an interview, a specifically written cover letter will place you in the top 8% of applications. Not bad for spending 30 minutes of your time!
How to write a cover letter.
So let’s look at how to write a winning cover letter.
As with most things in business, before you write a cover letter you must begin with some research. If you are applying to a particular advert then you need to research both the company and the position. If you are applying on a speculative basis then in depth research of each target company is essential.
The things you need to concentrate your research on:
• Who will be receiving and reading your letter
• The skills and experience mentioned in the job description
• The company and its culture
• Their competitors and market position
• The sector and any recent news or trends
• The organisation’s aims for short and long term
Building up a good knowledge of the company and industry helps you to tailor your cover letter for each company you apply to, and shows your passion for the job and sector.
To help with your research I recommend reading the companies website, searching news articles on the web and using the following employer review websites such as:
A good review of all these site can be found on the undercover recruiter website at this address https://theundercoverrecruiter.com/employer-reviews/
Addressing your letter correctly
Once your research is completed it’s now time to write a cover letter. The first biggest mistake that most people make when they write a cover letter is not to address it to the relevant person. People get lazy and address their letters in various ways including:
To whom it may concern
How much more impressive would it be to employ your research and address the letter to the correct hiring manager, such as:
Mr Peter Jones
It’s more impressive if the recruiting managers name wasn’t mentioned in the advert! This demonstrates commitment to the application process, a keen eye for detail and the ability to think creatively with detailed research.
How to Structure Your Cover Letter
As with the CV it is imperative that your accompanying letter has good structure making it easy for the recruiting manager to read. This is the first glimpse the employer has of you so the clearer your information is laid out the more likely they will continue on to read your CV.
Now that we are in the 21st century the majority of applications are made online, however this doesn’t mean that you can abandon the traditions of letter writing. Therefore it will require your address in the top right corner with the employers details on the left along with the date.
The typical structure would be as follows:
• The opening
• Why you
• Why them
• The ending
First Paragraph – The Opening
After the formal introduction it is always best to state the position you are applying for, including any reference number, just to avoid any misunderstandings, where you saw the advert and why you are applying. Try to capture the readers attention and give them a compelling reason to read your enclosed CV.
Second Paragraph- Why You
This is the section of the letter to sell yourself by concisely summarising your CV and stating why you are right for the vacancy. To do this effectively you need to tell a good story and make sure it is no longer than 1 paragraph in length. Please please please do not copy the profile from your CV as many people do. This will be a complete turn off for the reader once he/she progresses to the CV.
Third Paragraph- Why Them
Everybody loves a compliment and employers are no different. So with a little tact you can use this to your advantage by telling them why u interested to work for them.
Final Paragraph – The Ending
Rather than just thanking the employer for reading your letter and looking forward to hearing from them in due course we always advise Clients to devise an ending that leaves the door open for future contact, this a call of action at the end. By this we mean being assertive and stating that you would be available on the stated interview dates and that you can be reached on a particular phone number.
Including this call to action at the end of cover letters is proven to increase the conversion rate of applications to interview. Some people feel that this would be perceived as being pushy however you are simply informing the interviewer about your availability and how to contact you.
Even though you are most likely to submit your application online, signing your cover letter always creates a lasting positive impression. It’s not difficult to do and the following link is extremely informative, providing a clear guide how to insert a signature into a word document.
Emailing your Letter
Even in our technically advanced society, windows and mac systems are still relatively incompatible. Therefore sending your CV and cover letter to an employer is fraught with difficulties if you are unsure which system they use.
Because of this, some recruitment experts will advise job seekers to send their Cover letter in a PDF format. However I firmly believe that it’s best to cover both bases and therefore advise clients to send documents in both word and PDF. The employer can then select the more appropriate format to suit their system. Why spend an hour creating a winning letter for it to be rejected because the employer can’t open it!
Bespoke Cover Letters
Having the self discipline to write a cover letter is something that many people are unable to achieve, as discussed in an earlier paragraph. However even fewer are prepared to write a new letter for each application creating a generic template that they adapt for each position.
Although using templates is time saving it also leads to an increase in mistakes, with people forgetting to change aspects of the letter. I have received many letters wishing to apply for a different position than the one I had advertised. In addition these letters didn’t answer any of the questions I had posed in the adverts and you can guess what happened to those applications!
We always advise Clients to start each letter as if it’s the first, reading the job advert thoroughly and working through the structure highlighted above. As with writing a CV there are no short cuts that will create a cover letter with the same impact as one written specifically for the job advert.
To be an effective sales tool, the cover letter must be concise and kept to one page in length. Try to avoid waffle, embellishing the facts and regurgitating your CV in the letter. If your letter creeps onto a second page it’s imperative that you reread the contents and where possible condense the information.
A cover letter longer than a page discourages the reader and could even prevent them reading your CV.
Sending an employer a letter full of spelling/grammar mistakes is unprofessional and certainly unforgivable. The purpose of the letter is to impress the reader to the extent that continue onto your CV, this won’t happen if mistakes exist as you won’t be taken as a serious candidate.
With modern day word processors, this is easy to avoid, however typos can still occur. Therefore you need to read and reread your letter, if need be ask a friend or family member to read it through for you. Alternatively you can employ the services of a proof reader.
About the Author
Matt Wallace – CV Writer/Recruitment Mentor
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