It might be tempting to just grab an online template and customise it with your own details. If this is your usual go-to approach, however, you should think twice. According to recruiters, cover letters are the very point where a high proportion of applicants fail to show their true worth.
Luckily, we’ve asked some hiring and recruiting experts for their 5 top tips for writing a cover letter. These simple pointers will quickly help you stand out from the crowd.
1) Don’t Skim-Read the Application
Remember the story about Van Halen’s rider? The one where they asked for a bowl of M&Ms with all the brown ones removed? This wasn’t simply just rock’n’roll hubris—the band added this demand purely to check promoters and organisers were actually reading their contract.
You might be surprised to learn that recruiters often use the same technique. They carefully place ‘Easter eggs’ in their applications to filter out those who read it too quickly. So, make sure you study the whole thing and answer ALL the questions, even if some of them seem absurd!
2) Show You’ve Done Your Homework
Recruiters sift through hundreds of applications every day, so it’s very easy for them to spot candidates who use templates. Anything vague or slightly irrelevant will get your application thrown into the ‘no way’ pile.
This is why it’s vital you show you both know and understand the company. Do a bit of online research and make sure your cover letter reflects the values and ideals of both the job you are applying for, and the firm as a whole.
3) Connect Your Résumé’s Dots
There’s a good reason recruiters ask for a cover letter on top of a résumé—it’s because the latter does not clearly tell the story of you as an individual.
Unless recruiters can clearly see you’ve been working at the same company for 10 years and gradually climbing up the corporate ladder, your cover letter is a great opportunity to highlight some of the decisions that made you switch jobs in the past. Similarly, if there’s a lengthy gap in your employment history, confirm that you took some time off, and explain why.
4) Act Like You’ve Got the Job
Too many cover letters spend a huge amount of time talking about why the candidate should get the job. According to one recruitment expert, however, the best cover letter he ever received actually listed what the candidate would do as soon as he started his new job!
This is a great tip to follow if you have a clear idea of your goals and objectives. It presents you as a professional, driven, and dedicated individual—one recruiters would be mad not to invite for interview.
5) Inject Some Personality
Even if you follow all the points above, a cover letter could still make you sound like a robot. Remember that recruiters and HR professionals are humans too! They enjoy a story as much as the next person.
We know this one is difficult, but try to add a little bit of personality into your cover letter. You don’t have to be Hemingway to add a line or two that really reflects your personality and presents you as likeable to the people who decide whether or not you get the job.