When it comes to job hunting, there are a number of norms and good practices that should be adhered to if you want your application to be taken seriously.
The classic CV and cover letter combo is the minimum requirement to be considered for a role. But if everyone’s doing it, how can you make yours stand out from the others?
Delphine Latour is the founder of Pimp Your Job, a job coaching and recruitment consultancy firm that aids both companies looking for new hires and job seekers.
In this article, she breaks down for us what makes a good cover letter and how to send it along for the most impact.
The Importance of a cover letter
A cover letter gives you the opportunity to explain why you are uniquely qualified for this particular role. Your cover letter also reveals your communications skills and your understanding of the field in which you work (or are applying to).
If you are just starting out or planning to change sectors, a cover letter can be even more important because it is your opportunity to explain your motivations and contextualize your transferable skills.
In all cases, you’re able to bring detail to your professional background and elaborate upon elements of your experience that do not necessarily come through on your CV.
When Drafting Your Cover Letter
Here are some basic guidelines to keep in mind while writing your cover letter.
Be sure to:
- Always answer the question of “WHY”: Why are you applying? Why this company? Why you? Why would recruiting you be beneficial to both parties?
- Be succinct. According to Delphine, a cover letter should be no longer than one page.
- Be pragmatic and get straight to the point, which also helps to keep it succinct.
- Send it as a PDF. It’s widely used and you can be sure the recruiter can open it.
- Be sincere. Delphine explains: “Writing a cover letter can be tough because there are so many rules. You need to be yourself but without overdoing it, making over the top statements that are devoid of meaning.”
- Talk about yourself. You need to talk about your skills and abilities, placing added emphasis on those which are relevant to the role.
- Talk about the company. Delphine offers her advice: “You need to talk about the role within the context of the company in order to for your letter to ring as relevant…”
Make sure to avoid:
- Sending out cover letters with oversights. Delphine explains: “I’ve had letters sent to me with the name of another company on them. It’s obviously completely unacceptable.”
- Repeat what’s on your CV. You don’t need to go into absolute detail about all of your work experience, especially if they’re not relevant to the role you’re applying for
- Have any typos or spelling errors.
- Go overboard with politeness, for example at the end of the letter. According to Delphine, sign off your email professionally, “ try to organize an interview or meeting”.
When should you send a cover letter?
Even though drafting and customizing a cover letter can be time-consuming, if you don’t include one it’s most likely that you won’t even be considered for the role you are applying to.
So the answer to this question is, ALWAYS!
To make creating a cover letter for each job application easier, Delphine suggests:
…always have an up-to-date letter ready, which you can then adapt and tailor according to the specific job or company that you’re applying to.
A Modern Twist: Send your cover letter as an email
As you perform your job search, you will likely be identifying not just the job listings that most interest you, but also target companies where you would most like to work.
Even if these companies don’t appear to be looking for a candidate like yourself, sending a spontaneous job application to their HR department or someone in your target department could pave the way to a future opportunity.
You may also be aware of recruiters who work in your sector, as well.
For spontaneous job applications, an email cover letter along with an attached CV can often be the best way to go. A well drafted LinkedIn cover letter can also work. For young and modern companies, an emailed application is often the requirement.
In start-ups for example, it’s considered to be faster and more efficient, making the job of HR much easier. It also enables you to write in a tone that is more in line with what this type of company expects, avoiding long-winded or over elaborate applications.
- Keep the same basic format of a regular cover letter but be even more concise: 10-15 lines maximum. Think of it as your elevator pitch!
- Try to get in touch with a recruiter, either via their email address or their LinkedIn profile so you can get to them directly.
- Say something about your CV that makes the recruiter want to open your attachment.
- Take your time with the email subject line. “It must be very clear what your email is about, and the post which you’re applying for,” Delphine explains.
- Learn about the company that you’re interested in, so you can justify why you got in contact with them.
- Talk about specific things like your availability, your contact details, even a link to your LinkedIn profile.
- If you’ve already covered your reasons for applying within an email, there’s no need to also attach another cover letter. Don’t mix the two.
- Try desperately to be original. “This is tough. You always need to keep in mind that you don’t know the person you’re contacting, so it’s better to stay neutral rather than trying to be funny in case the other person doesn’t necessarily appreciate your type of humor, for example.”
- Send your mail from a non-professional address. Don’t send from Hotmail, MSN or using a cute or funny pseudonym.
- Send the mail too far outside of working hours. Delphine has received applications at 3am: “It’s a bit of nuisance and can count against the candidate, even if they’re based abroad.”
Ultimately, the cover letter is a test of a candidate’s ability to adapt themselves.
They must demonstrate they are capable of choosing the best format, the right words and that they can explain the reasons why a recruiter or future employer should take their application seriously.
It really is a subtle art to be honed.