How to Build an Awesome Cover Letter
Writing a cover letter can be one of the most overlooked and underestimated parts of applying for a job. It’s typically the first impression a hiring manager has of you. Nothing else gives you a better opportunity to let your personality shine through to an employer.
A good customised cover letter can be the difference between getting called in for an interview or being put in the “thanks for your application” pile. Many job seekers, however, make the mistake of using a generic cover letter or, worse, not writing one at all.
You should always include a cover letter with every application you submit. Importantly, each one should be customised for the job opening and the company while covering these three things:
- Who you are
- Why you’re the right person for the job
- What you can offer the company
A cover letter is one of the best ways you can sell yourself to an employer. When paired with your resume, it should have employers dying to meet you in person.
Building the Perfect Cover Letter
A cover letter is made up of three parts. An introduction that tells the employer who you are and why you want the job. A body paragraph or two that explains your experience and what qualifies you for the job. Finally, a conclusion that drives home what makes you the best candidate for them to hire. Whoever is reading your letter — a recruiter, supervisor or even your future boss — will most likely be reading lots of cover letters so grab their attention and keep them interested by ensuring everything in your cover letter is relevant to them.
Get Off to a Great Start with Your Introduction
Just like a resume headline, you want to immediately capture the employers attention. This means you need to polite (you don’t want the wrong attention) and exciting.
As the first thing the employer reads, the introduction to your cover letter may be one of the most crucial parts of your whole application. An informative and engaging introduction will make the employer want to continue reading your letter. On the flip side, a boring or generic cover letter will have an employer looking for the delete button.
One of your first tasks is working out how you will start. A typical cover letter introduction that many employers see is the slash introduction, that is, the common “Sir/Madam” title.
I am applying for the role of retail assistant with your company.
This approach is everything your cover letter shouldn’t be. Boring. Generic. Lazy. With this intro you are telling an employer that you didn’t take the time to learn who you would be speaking with or to write a letter specifically for them. You want to wow them, not shoot yourself in the foot with your first few words.
Find out who you should address your letter to. If their name isn’t on the job ad then you may need to do a little bit of detective work. That might be looking up the company’s hiring manager or the head of the department your applying to. Even if your letter ends up on someone else’s desk, a name of someone who works there shows that you put the effort in to not write the dreaded “To Whom It May Concern”.
Now that you’ve got a name to address your cover letter to, make sure you stand out right away with an engaging opening line. Something that shows your passion for the role or your love for the company is a good way to connect with the employer.
I am excited to apply for the role of retail assistant. [Company name] has always been at the forefront of the fashion industry. I would love to be able to bring that creativity and passion as well as my skills and experience to your company.
Make sure to focus on what you can offer the company and not what the company can do for you. Show that you know something about them. You want to be the person they have been looking for all along, not the person they are doing a huge favour for by taking on.
Win Them Over With Your Body Text
With the introduction out of the way, the main paragraphs of your cover letter are where you can address the job your applying for. You want to make sure that you’re showing why you’re the perfect candidate for this job. That includes:
- Your relevant experience
- Your skills and abilities (including soft skills)
- How your skills and strengths apply to the job you’re applying for
- Filling in any gaps
This doesn’t have to be a list of all your experiences (that’s what your resume is for). Rather, think about what experience you have that will be most useful in this role. You will usually always include your current position unless it’s brand new or totally unrelated in which case you should pick another work experience that most closely aligns to the job description. Use this opportunity to expand on your most significant experience and show the employer why it was so beneficial to you in terms of developing the skills that now make you a perfect candidate for their job.
Highlight Your Skill Fit
Identify what you think the most important skills are that the employer expects the successful candidate to have. Think about the experience you have that allows you to best demonstrate these and talk about it. Skills are developed at every job and recent research suggests that you may be developing skills that can be used in many more jobs than you realise. If you really feel that you don’t have the professional experience they’re looking for, think about other ways in which you may have developed those skills and expand upon these experiences.
Just because you don’t have the perfect “pedigree” doesn’t mean you’re not a great fit for the job so demonstrate this. Look for any opportunity to connect what you know with what they want you to know. This is your chance to sell yourself!
How Your Skills and Strengths Apply
This part of the paragraph is essential in convincing the employer as to why they should hire you. Having a long list of professional experiences and a huge list of skills is useless if a company can’t see why that would matter to them. Read the job description carefully and highlight why your unique experiences and skills would be a benefit to the company.
Fill In The Gaps
Sometimes there are periods during your working life where you weren’t working. Retraining or taking time off to raise children or for extended travel, for instance, would show up as a gap between jobs but these experiences are often still really valuable as they may have allowed you to develop other skills and strengths. So, don’t be afraid to include explanations for any significant gaps in your work history – even better, highlight why these experiences contribute to your ability to succeed in the role.
If you don’t address these gaps, an employer may assume the worst or it becomes a question mark hovering around your application that may lead to you being looked over for an applicant without any question marks. Take your cover letter as an opportunity to show off your extra skills or personality rather than allow them to fill in their own assumptions about why you didn’t work for a certain period of time.
Finish Strong With Your Conclusion
Just like a strong introduction is important to get the employer’s attention, a good conclusion can help you stick in their mind once they finish reading your cover letter. Don’t just say, you “hope to hear back from them.” Reiterate why the company appeals to you so much. Also, take the time to thank them as manners can go a long way when choosing between candidates.
You can also use the conclusion to lay to rest any fears the employer may have such as your ability to fit their schedule or your lack of professional experience. By highlighting why your experience can be a benefit to them, you can finish on a high note and leave a positive, lasting impression.
Attention to Detail
The hardest part is over. You’ve researched the company and thought carefully about which experiences and skills you want to include. You’ve also carefully considered your word choice to make sure you are highlighting how you can help them rather than the other way around. After all this good work, don’t let yourself down with spelling or formatting errors. These mistakes can be fixed in seconds but if they are left in, your brilliant cover letter is going to sink faster than a lead balloon.
To make certain you pick up any mistakes, have a friend read over your cover letter. An easy way to proofread is by starting at the very bottom and reading backwards word by word. This allows you to look at each word individually rather than skim over something — reading it as you know it should be rather than what it is.
The fact is, spelling and grammar mistakes can make a terrible first impression. By proofreading you can show an employer that you pay attention to detail and care about producing high quality work with whatever you do.
Formatting for Success
After checking for errors. The final step is making sure that the look and feel of the cover letter is right. Before an employer even reads your introduction, they will notice the margins, font, and style. Again, this can make for a snap judgement in or against your favour. Your cover letter is a professional document, like your CV, and you should present it in a business letter style. This includes writing the date you wrote the letter as well as writing out the company’s address and the details of hiring manager (if you can find them). If you are including your cover letter in the body of your email, it is not necessary to include the address details. At the end you can simply sign off with a “sincerely” or “regards”.
It is important that the employer can scan it quickly and identify essential information. This is so they can then go back and read it properly once they have an idea of the content. The best way to accomplish this is by using paragraphs and a clear font such as Calibri or Arial in size 12.
Once you have done this step you are ready to apply for a job. Check your resume is up to date and is customised for the same job. Make sure there isn’t any zombie speak to sink your chances.
Good Things Take Time
A cover letter serves as an introduction to your resume—and to yourself as a job seeker. It does take a lot longer to write a customised letter but the results are worth it. Taking the time to write a tailored letter means you will be much more likely to be successful. You want to make sure that whoever reads your cover letter will be racing to make time for an interview with you. And, once you’ve put time into a well constructed cover letter, it provides a great template that will be easier to customise for the next role.