Whatever you decide to call it - motivational letter, application, cover letter - it is one of the cornerstones of a successful job hunt. Perfecting the cover letter has a huge payoff and it represents an opportunity that should not be wasted. According to a Graduateland survey, it's actually the second most important part of an application in the eyes of hiring managers (right after the CV).
The vast majority of cover letters that a company receives are not very original as most of the applications follow the same checklist and have the same buzzwords such as “motivated, humble, team player, and international”. This makes it hard for the HR representatives to find the right candidate amongst the large pile of unfocused and badly written applications. Here is your opportunity to shine and create a great first impression through paper, making the HR-guys’ day a little less difficult.
When writing your cover letter try to write a story. This can be hard for many as not everyone has a modern-day Shakespeare inside of them, but try to write a story nonetheless - or look at some tips on brushing up your writing skills first. It could be the story of how you figured out you wanted to work for the company, the first time you were certain this is what you wanted to work with, or a story that highlights one of your good traits. Depending on the degree of formality within the organization, try to show some humor if possible, but this is a bit harder as it can be misunderstood by the employer.
Small details, with great importance
- Limit yourself to a single page (or less)
- Generally, employers do not ask for a long essay but they want you to answer the simple question: why are you the right candidate? A scary question, but something you must be able to answer briefly and eloquently.
- Know what position you are applying for
- It is also important to mention what position you are applying for, where you heard/saw the job posting, the name of the company you are applying for and VERY briefly who you are (age, latest career/educational level) in the first paragraph of the cover letter.
- Specifically, address why you are interested in the company
- There must be a reason you decided to apply for a job in this company and make sure to tell them that. If the only reason is because you are desperate for a job, this might not be the best point to include, but try to get inspired by what the company does and see if you have any values and similarities in common. This shows personality and sets you apart from the other applicants
- Focus on what can you do for them
- Scrutinise the job description and whatever information you have about the posting, and determine the key requirements and priorities for the job. Then address how you can fulfill these and add value to the company, this can be done through an example that highlights one of your skills and capabilities.
- Get a name
- Addressing your cover letter to “Whomever it may concern” or “Dear Sirs” is not that personal and it is quite bland. Instead, contact the company or do some research online to figure out who will be reading your application and address it especially to them. If you don't have a direct contact, you can also ask your network for help with finding it out.
- The letter has to make sense
- Make sure that the cover letter has a logical sequence from beginning to end, it helps if each paragraph you write is another argument around the main point you are trying to make in the letter.
- Be yourself
- The employers are looking at who you are, so do not be afraid of showing some personality, but avoid hard-sell, gimmicky, or unorthodox letters. Writing an honest and genuine application always goes much further than sticking to rules you read online or on outdated career guides.
- Give the document a distinct name
- This is especially true when you are applying by mail or online (which is the most popular way of applying for jobs nowadays).
- Most importantly, ALWAYS proofread your cover letter carefully!
- It is important that you proofread your cover letter, but not just for grammatical mistakes. Most people do copy-paste from previous cover letters. When you do this, make sure to change the company name and position you are applying for. Because if you do not, it is not just a complete embarrassment for you, but it might lose you the opportunity to be invited for an interview.
Structure your cover letter!
When writing a cover letter get an idea of the structure and what you want to tell with each paragraph.
You want to really catch the employer’s attention here, and this is also why the first sentence is the hardest to write. Start fast and attract interest immediately through a story or a great anecdote. If you have a contact within the company who has recommended you, it can also be a good idea to add this in the beginning. If you need some help getting started, you can check out some examples of how to start a cover letter.
Here you need to inform the employer of why you are writing and give them a brief idea of who you are.
2. and 3. paragraphs:
This is a great place to highlight some of the best things about you and on your resume related to the job you are applying for. Remember that the cover letter complements your CV and not a copy of it. Therefore, make a summary of your career and achievements that you find important to highlight.
Summarize briefly and be polite, thank the employer for their consideration and time, be humble above all else. In the end, you can stress action by requesting a meeting and stating how you can be contacted.
The 3 things you should never do in your cover letter:
- Copy the exact same wording as in the application
- Do not use extreme adjectives such as perfect - you are not sure you can live up to that, and no one is perfect!
- Do not just write: see enclosed CV
Looking for country-specific information on cover letters? Then check out these articles: