The underdog in the recruitment process is the cover letter. It is often underestimated how much value a good cover letter adds to a job application.
A cover letter builds on the information on your resume. A resume shows your skills and experience, and your cover letter gives you the opportunity to tell the employer why you are suitable for the job.
Many employers and recruiters read the cover letter before the resume, meaning it could break or make your application. We often receive cover letters that are too short, too long or too vague. A cover letter should be tailored to each job you apply for, not a generic one you send with every application.
Fran Marshall is HRM’s HR Manager, and with over 25 years’ experience, we have asked her for her top 6 tips to creating a stellar cover letter. Here is what she suggests;
1. READ THE AD THREE TIMES
The job ad gives you the crucial information you need to include in your cover letter. Read the ad once, then read it again another two times before you start writing. Here is the key information to look for;
Who: always personalise your cover letter to the specific hiring manager. If you don’t know a name use sir/madam
Key criteria: address the key criteria in your cover letter, explaining how you meet it and why you are the right person for the role
Deadline: know when you need to have your application in by. A late application is a negative reflection on your time management skills
2. KEEP IT SHORT
Fran says 3-4 paragraphs is the perfect length for a cover letter, and definitely no longer than one A4 page.
3. ATTACH IT AS A SEPARATE DOCUMENT
A cover letter is a stand-alone document. Don’t write it in the body of an email and don’t include it at the top of the document that includes your resume. Some recruiters specifically ask for a cover letter, and if they don’t see one attached they will disregard the application all together.
4. NO NEED FOR PERSONALISATION
Everything about applying for a job is about your capability to do the job well. Your cover letter doesn’t need to include information about your marital status, children, sexual identity or age.
The only time you would address something outside of the job criteria is if you are relocating to a new location. You could include in your cover letter whether you have already moved, or when you intend to move to ensure it falls within the same timeframes the recruiting manager requires.
5. THE SECOND PARAGRAPH IS KEY
Your second paragraph should address the key critical requirements and how you meet them. This is the most important paragraph of the cover letter, focus on it most. For example; if you are applying for a customer service role, in your second paragraph you should expand on your level of expertise.
6. AVOID JARGON LANGUAGE
More people text than they do call these days, so it is easy to fall into the habit of using ‘text language’. Make sure to avoid this in a cover letter to build upon your professionalism.
Communications professional Lauren Nelson says “If your cover letter doesn’t impress, I won’t even look at your resume”.
The cover letter is the gate keeper of the resume; it decides whether the employer or recruiter wants to read on. Never underestimate the power of a strong cover letter.
COVER LETTER CHECKLIST
- Is it no more than one A4 page long?
- Is it free of spelling and grammatical mistakes?
- Is it well laid out?
- Is your address at the top of the letter?
- Is this followed by the date, and then the contact details of the intended recipient?
- Is it addressed to a specific person?
- Are their details correct?
- Does your letter start with explaining why you are writing?
- Has it been tailored to the specific job?
- Does it summaries your key selling points for this job?
- Does it offer to meet the employer and provide contact details?
- Is it signed appropriately? (Yours sincerely or Kind regards)