As you’ve probably already discovered, writing your cover letter can be your hardest task to complete as part of your job application process.
The formal language can be difficult to write. And it can be hard to get your point across on one page because it’s not always easy to decide which points to focus on.
That’s why writing cover letters can be stressful and why – after writing your CV – they’re not only the hardest but the most time-consuming part of the whole process of applying for a job.
Cover letters can be more difficult to write if you’ve found a role you’re especially excited about. That’s because it’s easy to gush. So you end up writing too much and you spend hours editing and rewriting.
And what if you’re looking to change career? It can be difficult to explain the relevance of your skills and experience in one short letter, especially if you’ve had little or no industry background.
So it’s easy to see why you might find yourself procrastinating over cover letters and never getting around to applying for that amazing role that got you excited in the first place.
Unfortunately, there aren’t many instances when you don’t need a cover letter. Even if you’re applying for a job using an application form or via a job-search website, you still need to include a cover letter in one guise or other.
However, there’s good news: once you understand the role of a cover letter and why you need to write one, it will feel much more approachable.
Why include a cover letter?
Writing your CV and cover letter are the first step in the job application process. And the reason you write them is to get you noticed (for all the right reasons) and persuade the employer to invite you for an interview.
Of course, it would be much easier to apply for a job if you didn’t have to write a cover letter, wouldn’t it?
But if you think about it, if someone sent you their CV and it had no any letter of introduction with it, you’d probably think it was a bit odd. You’d have no idea why they’d sent it, why the writer was interested in the job or even which role they were interested in. You’d certainly have no idea why you should consider them – and you probably wouldn’t spend any time trying to figure it out either.
So a cover letter sets the scene and introduces you to your prospective employer. It gives context to your CV by telling the employer why you’re applying for a specific role and what you believe you have to offer the company.
But just as importantly, it allows you to speak directly to the decision-maker and allow them to get to know you better. Your personality comes across in a letter in a way that it can’t in your CV and gives you the chance to direct their attention to your good points.
Your cover letter is there to say ‘hey, look at what I’ve done!’ and ‘think what I could do for you’ and finally, ‘I think we should talk’.
However, although a cover letter is all about you, it’s important that it isn’t all me, me, me. Think about what the employer is looking for. Show you understand their requirements and show how you can fulfil them.
So, remember, while your letter may be about you, it’s for them. Like any sales letter, it needs to focus on what the reader wants, not on what you want. And while you may be justifiably proud of a particular achievement, don’t focus on it if it isn’t relevant to the role, because it will make the reader feel you don’t understand what they’re seeking.
Why a good cover letter is important
That’s why it’s not enough to dash off any old generic cover letter.
But how do you write a good one?
First and foremost, you need to write a cover letter that matches you and your skills to the job specification. Sell yourself to the reader by highlighting the benefits you’ll bring to the role and persuading them that you’re worth pursuing. To do this, go beyond the bald facts and figures of your CV to show the reader how you’ve used and developed your skills, experience and knowledge.
Writing a good cover letter also means demonstrating that you’ve done your research and know what the company or organisation does.
The price you pay for failing to do it well is having your application set aside to the ‘no’ pile.
The role of a cover letter
The role of a cover letter is to win you the chance to meet the employer face to face in an interview. To achieve this, sell yourself and what you have to offer.
You also need to write a letter that’s relevant, easy to understand and short. After all, the person reading your letter has a pile of others to get through, so they’re unlikely to try to read between the lines or unravel complex sentences.
If you don’t convince them that you’ve got what they’re looking for, your application will come to nothing.
It’s also possible your letter will be scanned by a computer looking for relevant words related to the job specification. If so, ensure you repeat phrases and words used in the job specification itself to trigger the computer to select your application for further consideration.
What to include in a cover letter
Given that employers use cover letters as a way of screening out applicants, it’s important that yours is of a high standard. Even a small error, like a typo, can get mean your application gets rejected.
However, being free of errors isn’t the only goal. Even if your cover letter is error-free and perfectly written, if it’s generic and makes no reference to the company or the specific requirements of the job description, it’s also likely to be set aside.
- Begin your letter by stating which job you’re applying for. Give the name of the role and any reference. Your goal here is to grab the attention of reader so they read the whole letter and look at specific parts of your CV.
- Explain where you heard about the job. Give the name of any website or newspaper and the date the role was advertised there. If you heard about the vacancy from someone who’s already working at the company, include their name and role.
- Briefly describe how your skills and experience match the needs of the company or the position you’re applying for. This will give the reader an idea of what else is in your letter.
- Next, explain why you are interested in the job and why you would be an excellent candidate for the role.
- Include details of specific qualifications you have that are required for the role. However, make sure you don’t just duplicate what’s on your CV. Add some details and give examples of how you’ve applied your learning in other situations.
- Aim to show rather than tell. Give examples of how you’ve developed and used the required skills in previous roles or situations. What was the problem, how did you solve it, what skills did you use to resolve the problem?
- In the closing section of your cover letter, briefly restate what make you a strong candidate for the company and/or position. If you’ve got room, say you’d like the opportunity to be interviewed.
- Finish your cover letter with your handwritten signature followed by your typed name. If you’re sending your letter as part of an email, you only need to type your name then add your contact information.
Once you’ve finished writing and editing your letter and you’ve got it to a point where you’re ready to send it, remember to edit and proof-read it before sending it.
Check that you’ve added the address of the correct employer and that you’ve got the correct name of the person you’re writing to. If you’re creating a lot of cover letters at the same time, it’s easy to make a mistake.
The best way to proof-read your letter is to print it out then read it out loud. If you’ve spent a lot of time working on the letter, it would be a good idea to get someone else to read it too. They will probably pick up errors or glitches that you’ve overlooked.
What to write in an email when sending a CV and cover letter
When you’re sending an email application, it’s important to follow the employer’s instructions on how to submit your cover letter and CV.
- Even though it’s quick and easy to send an email, it doesn’t mean you can send a sub-standard cover letter or CV.
- Make sure you check the grammar, spelling and capitalisation of the email itself as well as the attachments.
- Send the message to yourself first so you can make sure the formatting and attachments work. Once you’re happy with everything, send it to the employer.
- Check the email address, the name of the person you are writing to and that you have attached the correct attachments before hitting Send.
What to do when emailing your cover letter
1. Sending email cover letters as attachments
If the job advert asks you to include your cover letter and CV as an attachment, do so with either Microsoft Word or Adobe PDF files. Make sure you save the files using your name so they don’t get mixed up with someone else’s application i.e. yourname-cv.doc, yourname-cover.doc.
2. Sending email cover letters without attachments
As some employers don’t accept attachments, you may need to paste your CV into the body of your email message. If you do this, use a simple font and remove any complex formatting. Don’t use HTML in case the employer can’t process and read it. Keep it simple, clear and easy to read.
Getting help with your cover letter
A spelling mistake, poor grammar and sloppy language can all have dire consequences for your application for employment. Unfortunately, knowing this adds pressure and stress to writing the letter in the first place.
That, along with the time it takes to write a good cover letter is why you may want a professional to do the job for you. Apart from anything else, tackling these letters after a long day at work or when you’re tired can be a challenge.
After all, they still take effort. And if there aren’t a lot of roles for you to apply for, your chosen area is very competitive or you struggle to write engaging cover letters, you need to maximise your changes with each role by putting together the best possible application you can.
The price of getting your cover letter wrong can be high, so it’s worth investing in professional help. It’ll significantly improve your chances of getting selected for interview, save you time and give you peace of mind too.
That’s why Career Consultants offers a Cover Letter Writing Service that takes this task off your hands. We want to help you make a great impression and ensure you can concentrate on finding the right roles to apply for and save your energy to perform well at interview.
To find out more, contact us for details of how this service works.