Is that even the right question?
Before thinking about writing a cover letter to go with your application, consider whether it’s required at all. It’s required when:
- It’s been asked for in the job ad
- It’s known to be preferred by the company you’re applying to
- They’ve asked for you to show how your skills and experience addresses the criteria for the role
If it’s not required, I wouldn’t provide it, unless I knew it was going to add value to my application.
Also, I wouldn’t include any critical information on the cover letter that wasn’t already on my CV. The cover letter may not get read. The CV will.
So let’s assume it’s necessary. Here’s some of my top tips to help you write it.
Make it professional but human
People read cover letters to find out more about who you are which may not be easily garnered from a resume that only shows skills, education and experience. Write in a way that expresses who you are, why the role you’re applying for is a great fit for you and how you can add value to the employer in this role. The style of your writing should be personal, first person, but not overly casual and certainly not verbose.
Make it more about them, than about you
But hang on, didn’t you just say the cover letter is read by the employer to get more information about me? Yes, but.. specifically they want to know what it is about you that will be of value to them. And here’s a big secret, they won’t guess, hope or even easily join the dots based on your skills and experience. You have to spell it out for them. If they said they want an IT support person with good customer service skills, then tell them how and why you have exceptional customer service skills. For example: “Given Company XYZ needs their staff to be client facing, I am a strong fit having been trained by McDonald’s, who are known to be a world leader in customer service training. Further, having spent 2 years doing IT support on a helpdesk, I’ve supported everyone from mine site workers to C level executives and am highly confident in my ability to represent XYZ in a manner that will have users giving outstanding feedback week after week. My current team leader probably summed me up best when he exclaimed ‘customers just love you Daniel, they keep asking for you to personally handle their issues’ .”
The above show’s you understand their requirement, and how you can address it and includes extra detail about what’s important to them – eg happy users and positive feedback from them.
Address the criteria
The main reason to have a cover letter at all is to help spell out to the employer how your skills and experience match the job requirements of the role. Given this, quite simply (as Nike would say) just do it. Make a table if you like listing all the requirements on one side and then clearly list how your skills, experience or education meets the requirements, on the other side, next to each requirement.
Whether you show it in a table or in prose matters little. What is important is that you cover all the main criteria and even add in one or two extra benefits which you would bring specifically to that employer, given your own research about what they do and how they do it.
No one wants to read your 20 page cover letter. Be concise. 1 page in most cases should be plenty. In short, address the criteria in as little words as possible.
There you have it, ask yourself these questions:
- Do I need a cover letter?
- How do I meet each requirement of this role?
- What is it about me that will add value to the employer and the role?
I hope you find this guide useful and be able to help you write a cover letter that really captures the attention of employers. Reach out if you need more guidance.