Writing a good cover letter is usually considered an incredibly important aspect of a job application. While this is undoubtedly true, it is also a process which is deceptively simple, and one which can be mastered with just a little practice.
The important thing to remember is that your cover letter is your best opportunity to stand out from the dozens of other people who have likely applied for the same role.
While your CV is also important, in the sense that it gives a greater understanding of your capabilities, qualifications and experience, it must be remembered that employers are paying less time to the content of a CV than ever before.
Recent research estimates that employers spend an average of just 7-8 seconds on a CV before placing it in the discard/next stage pile!
Therefore, if you really want to distance yourself from the competition, your cover letter is the perfect avenue for doing this, and this point leads us nicely into the next section.
Don't tell employers anything that your CV can do better
A major mistake that many people make with their cover letters is in merely paraphrasing their CV into paragraph form – detailing the exact same content with little discernible difference or personality inserted into it.
Don't do this.
Your CV should serve to tell an employer what you can do – your cover letter should explain how and why you can do it.
Therefore, instead of explaining that you spent 10 years working for British Rail, let them know exactly what you learned there, and the life lessons that came with such a position. Additionally, let them know exactly why your experience in that role will transfer to the role you are applying for.
Use your cover letter to inject your own personality and world-view into. As somebody who has hired hundreds of employees over the years, I can assure you that this type of cover letter tends to lead to a more protracted view of your CV, and ultimately leads to an increased chance of landing an interview.
Also, do not be afraid to speak about your enthusiasm for the role, as well as the industry in which the business operates.
Enthusiasm is contagious, and will more likely lead employers to read the rest of your cover letter – remember, for every further second an employer spends on your letter or CV, you are dramatically increasing your chances of getting to the next stage.
Don't overdo it
Do you enjoy reading countless memos, reports, emails, etc., throughout your working day? Well, guess what? Neither does the person reading through your cover letter.
Keep it short and keep it to the point. A good rule of thumb to remember is this - try to say everything you want to say in the least amount of words possible.
This is the essence of good communication, and the employer will undoubtedly appreciate the effort you have taken to achieve this.
Don't use generic phrases
As we've already said, your cover letter is an opportunity to really stand out from the crowd. Don't ruin this by filling your letter with generic terms and phrases which paint you as unimaginative, uninspiring, and ultimately unemployable.
Try to steer clear of the following phrases, and you will have increased your chances of employment success exponentially:
- 'Dear Sir or Madam' – This sounds old fashioned and over-formal. If you do not have a direct point of contact which to address your letter, then do not address it to anybody. Just jump straight into the content and do not give it a second thought.
- 'My name is....' - They'll see your name at the bottom of the letter, they really don't need to see it at the top as well. This is one of the most unimaginative ways in which you can possibly begin your letter, so stay away from it.
- 'I have worked at the following companies...' - Great, now they don't need to see your CV. Instead of telling employers where you've worked, do yourself a favour and let them know exactly how this can be of benefit to their particular business – that's really all they are interested in.
Again, brevity is key.
Don't overdo or over think this part too much. A simple 'I look forward to hearing from you', followed by 'Yours Sincerely' and your name, is a perfect way to finish off your cover letter.