As research has indicated that 93% of hiring managers like to see a cover letter (or email) with a resume, it is clear that the cover letter still has an important role to play in the recruitment process and needs to be taken seriously.
When it comes to customizing your cover letter to a specific job or role, just plugging the name of the company and position into the title and opening paragraph is unlikely to win you any prizes. An effective cover letter needs to be carefully targeted.
Some basic rules. Make sure all your contact details – including email and telephone numbers (both fixed line and mobile) – are clearly shown at the top of the letter.Make it easy for the recruiter to contact you.
If you are applying for a specific role, try and find the name of the recruiter and their job title. Address the letter accordingly. If the hiring manager is a woman and you are not sure if they are Mrs. or Miss, don’t guess! Use Ms. Date the letter.
Pay attention to spelling, grammar and punctuation. It is shocking how many candidates fail at an early stage through a simple failure to use a spell checker. Use a clear and consistent layout and design, with a similar typeface to your CV. Avoid gimmicks such as the use of color or graphics. It will help your letter stand out, but for every recruiter that will like it, there will be 99 who won’t. Don’t give hiring managers an excuse to reject your application before they have even read it. That also means keep it to no more than a page.
So a strong cover letter becomes a one-page marketing document. It is marketing one thing: You. Your skills, how they apply to the job in question, and how you can meet their needs.
A strong opening paragraph is important. It should capture the reader’s attention and tell them, very succinctly, the job for which you are applying, the skills you bring, how these skills match their needs, and why you want to work for them. In other words, make them care enough to want to learn more.
Having captured their attention with the opening paragraph, the central paragraphs of your cover letter are critical to its success – your goal is to persuade the reader to look at your CV. To do this, you need to persuade them you have something they need.
Using the job description, or other research you have done on the company and the role to pick two or three selling points from your CV, and illustrate these with specific examples.
For a sales and marketing position, rather than saying “grew sales year on year,” change this to “grew sales in the Northern Region by 40% from 1MM in 3 years.”
And a project manager position would mean replacing “successful record of project management,” with “successfully implemented IT projects in the Middle East, Africa and Europe on time and on budget.”
Briefly state why you are applying for the job. Never mention money, or any dissatisfaction with your current employer. Instead be positive and focus on the opportunity that working for the new employer will give you – more responsibility, the opportunity to learn new skills, the greater challenge etc. Try and convey to the recruiter the idea that you want to work for them because of their reputation as a good employer. Remember everybody likes to be flattered!
Your final paragraph needs to be upbeat with a call to action. Thank them for their interest, invite them to contact you if they need any further information, and end with a sentence such as “I look forward to hearing from you.” It is a traditional friendly message to the reader.
Every job and company is different, so every cover letter you write should also be different. Sending the same letter to everybody, changing only a few details such as company name and address, will reduce your chances of success considerably. With a bit of extra effort, however, you can tailor your cover letters so that they stand out from the crowd.