Cover Letter writing – Introduction
Cover Letters go hand-in-hand with your resume. Consider them as an extra chance to explain to your future employers that you are the right candidate that they are looking for, that you want to work for their company and that there are specific ways in which the firm will benefit by having you on board. Writing a solid Cover Letter is a time- consuming task. You should be well aware of that fact. You should also be aware that many people commit serious mistakes when writing their Cover Letters. And this is an opportunity to beat the competition.
Here we will go through some proven techniques that will enhance the quality of your Cover Letter. We’ll discuss a number of mistakes that you should avoid. The content of this section will help you make another decisive step towards the ultimate goal – landing your dream job.
Cover Letter Do’s: Proven techniques used by successful candidates
Many online articles give good ideas on how to write a quality Cover Letter. Very few, if any, provide you with actionable advice and guide you through the entire structure of your Cover Letter. We’ll try to do exactly that here. This extract will teach you how to create a great Cover Letter that will reinforce the strong impact of your CV.
The first point that needs to be made when we talk about a high-quality Cover Letter is that you need to write a separate letter for each company that you apply to. You can start by using a general structure, but it needs to be reshaped significantly. Remember, human resource departments read hundreds of Cover Letters and are able to spot a generic one instantly. In most cases, a generic Cover Letter will be judged as a lack of interest and unwillingness to go the extra mile, and hence, it will be seen as a deal breaker. This is very important. Make the necessary effort that will show to recruiters that you are really interested in the given opportunity.
When you want to make a strong selling point and demonstrate that you are interested in a given opportunity, you need to show that you performed some research before sending your CV and Cover Letter. Making a reference to a company’s recent acquisition, product portfolio expansion or industry dynamics will impress the readers of your Cover Letter. Consider the following statement: “A report claims Wells Fargo has at least 700 employees who are involved with innovation. As a result of this, the bank is ready to offer its customers cutting edge financial products. I will be a perfect fit for Well Fargo’s strong innovation culture. I embrace change and new challenges and would like to be part of Wells Fargo’s dynamic and stimulating environment.” It makes a strong point, right? By performing research, you will be able to specifically point out why you will be a great fit for the company’s business and culture.
Now, let’s talk about the structure of the document. Whatever you do, make sure that it’s not longer than a single page. The truth is that recruiters don’t have time to read longer content. Keep it concise and relevant. The complete Cover Letter should include 4 or 5 paragraphs at most – an opening statement, 2 examples, which show that you are right for the job and a closing statement.
Don’t wait for the second part of the Cover Letter in order to use your power statements – start from the beginning. You want to grab the reader’s attention right away. Generic and protocol statements like “I am writing to you regarding the position of Business Analyst” won’t do the job. Instead, try to include an active statement that gives a valid reason as to why you are the candidate they are looking for: “An excellent academic track record and genuine interest for marketing make me the perfect candidate for this position”. The opening statement can attract the reader’s attention by:
- Indicating why you want to work for that specific company
- What makes you suitable for the advertised job
- How you are going to meet the company’s needs
Choose the option that would allow you to make the most powerful statement and then address the two topics immediately after.
This should be sufficient for the first paragraph of your Cover Letter. The second and third paragraphs will be the body of the letter. You should use them in order to explain your qualifications and prove that your skills complement exactly what the employer is looking for, providing specific examples for that.
Use the job description as your main guideline. Similarly to what we saw for CVs, although here you will have the chance of providing information and stating how your experience makes you suitable for the given position. A very good method that you can apply is the following:
- Read the job description
- In one column, write the qualifications and personal traits that are described
- In a second column, write (right next to the first one) proof that you are the right person for the job
The company needs a proactive person. You can prove that you are right for the job with the following statement “Co-founded a charity club with 34 members that has generated over $35,000 in 2 years”.
By carefully addressing key points of the job description, you’ll attract the human resource department’s attention, because … after all, this is precisely what they are looking for. A generic Cover Letter would never include these details; make sure that you use this as your advantage.
Numerical examples are simply great. They are interesting, eye catching and to the point. You’ll grab your reviewer’s attention by providing numerical proof of the accomplishments that you listed. Try to do that whenever possible as it will greatly enhance your chances of being noticed.
Your closing statement (4th or 5th paragraph) should be a powerful one. Try to use a phrase that sounds positive and reaffirms that you are suitable for the job. For example, if you are applying for an internship and you have no previous experience you can say the following: “Having in mind the competences required for the summer internship position offered by Barclays, I am a suitable candidate. My excellent academic record demonstrates my commitment and dedication. I am ready to build the bridge between theoretical knowledge and practical application and am eager to deliver an excellent performance during my summer internship with Barclays”. A few important points about this statement:
- Keeps attention away from the lack of work experience
- Focuses on academic background
- States that he is eager to deliver a strong performance for the company
- Cites commitment and dedication (two of the most important drivers for successful performance)
Try to be proactive at the end of your Cover Letter. If you have the telephone number or e-mail of the Hiring Manager, write that you will follow-up in a few days and then don’t forget to do precisely that. This will improve your chances for two reasons.
1) You will demonstrate that you are a proactive person 2) You will show sincere interest in the job opportunity
Cover Letter Don’ts: Mistakes that you have to avoid
There are many things that can go wrong when you write a Cover Letter. Some of them are more subtle than others, but that does not mean they can’t ruin your application. In this lesson, we will discuss these practices, and we’ll make sure that you avoid them in all Cover Letters that you write in the future.
It’s very similar to what we said for CVs. You should never use a single Cover Letter that you send to all companies. That’s not the way to go, especially not if you want to demonstrate interest, dedication, motivation and willingness to go the extra mile. Instead, you can start from a well written template for a similar job, but then you should customize it significantly for each application. It should mirror the job description and contain company-specific observations.
Cover Letters that are longer than a page don’t make a good impression. There is no need to write more. You should just focus on explaining why you are the perfect candidate for the job in 4 or 5 short paragraphs.
The first few sentences are extremely important, because they will either win or lose the reader’s attention. Don’t postpone an explanation why you’re the perfect candidate for the job. Start with a punch line: “A six month internship in M&A and an excellent academic track record make me the perfect candidate for Morgan Stanley’s Investment Banking Division”. Many people instead start with “I am writing regarding the open position in your Investment Banking Division”. Don’t do that. It will mean nothing for the reviewer.
Don’t repeat your resume in your Cover Letter. Use your Cover Letter to describe additional details that you weren’t able to squeeze out onto the single page of your resume. By using full sentences instead of bullet points, you can expand your resume points and explain clearly why you are the perfect fit for the company. If your Cover Letter is a mere copy of the resume, why even bother submitting two documents in the first place?
A frequent mistake, and yet not even recognized as a mistake, is focusing on what the company will do for you – “I am excited about the possibility to work for your company as it would allow me to grow and learn from the best professionals in the industry”.
However, the thing is that recruiters want to learn how you will be useful to the company; what skills separate you from the rest of the candidates. “I am curious in nature and eager to learn and work on myself. This makes me a great fit for your firm, as it is known for its culture of innovation”. Sounds better, right?
Another thing that you should be careful about when writing your Cover Letter is overusing the word “I”. There are a couple of reasons for that:
- You may come across as arrogant or self-centered
- Recruiters won’t see you as the perfect team player
The fix? Try to use “I” once per paragraph and highlight that you are a team player- you can do your part and enjoy cooperating with others.
Don’t use clichés. Your Cover Letter will sound exactly like everybody else’s and you will miss an opportunity to shine. You can do better than writing “I would like to apply for a job at…”, “I think I am the perfect candidate for this position”, “I am a detail- oriented team player”. All of these statements are written in thousands of Cover Letters. Make sure yours is different. Talk with your own words. Be concrete and use examples. This will make the difference.
Thanking the person who reads your Cover Letter for his/her time and consideration is not a waste of blank space. On the contrary, don’t forget to do that. Given that the hiring manager probably received hundreds of Cover Letters, it is always good to appreciate his/her efforts. The same way as he/she appreciates the fact that you spent several hours writing a Cover Letter and a CV.
As we already mentioned, you need to be sure that the spelling and grammar of your letter are impeccable. Don’t take the chance of submitting a Cover Letter that is not proofread. After you finish, read your work carefully and concentrate on finding typos and grammar mistakes. The best thing you can do afterwards is to ask a third person to go through your letter as well. Proofreading pays off as 58% of CVs and Cover Letters contain typos. If you manage to overcome that, you will be among the 42% who have a significantly better chance of consequently being selected.
Addressing your Cover Letter
Addressing the Cover Letter can be a difficult task. Nobody likes to write “Dear Sir or Madam”, but there are many situations when it seems that you don’t have a choice. For example, you can be filling an online application for a huge company that has hundreds of human resource staff. In that case you can type “Dear Hiring Manager” or “Dear Sir/Madam”, as there is no way of possibly knowing who will read your Cover Letter.
In other situations, it is possible to find out who will be reading your letter. If you are applying at a smaller firm or have a contact of reference, you should make an effort in order to find out the name of the person who will read your Cover Letter and address it to them. A simple phone call at the firm’s reception can provide you with the necessary information. This will really make you stand out, as other candidates will almost never do this.
What if the Cover Letter was optional?
Some job ads or hiring managers will test you and will tell you that a Cover Letter is not compulsory. They want to see whether you are ready to pay your dues and how motivated you are for the job when put under consideration. By sending a Cover Letter, you will make a clear statement – “I care for this job and this is why I spent 3 extra hours writing a quality Cover Letter, even though it was not necessary. This shows how much I want this position.”
So my advice is to include a Cover Letter even when it is optional. Your CV and Cover Letter go hand-in-hand. If one leaves home, the other one follows. Remember, these extra efforts are what ultimately make the difference between being successful and failing to get that dream job that you always wanted.