It’s always wise to write a cracking cover letter when you submit your resume for a position. Not all prospective employers will read it, especially those who are time poor. Those who do will give you less than a minute to decide whether to put your resume in the ‘potential’ pile or ‘not interested’ pile. This means it’s worth putting in the effort to make your cover letter memorable and more than just a summary of your resume, which is repetitive and hardly inspiring.
So how do you write a memorable cover letter that seizes that opportunity to showcase your personality? Read our top 12 do’s and don’ts …
Tip #1: Customise, customise, customise
Writing a generic letter and shooting it out wide and far rarely works to your advantage. Recruiters and prospective employers can tell when you haven’t taken the time to tailor your cover letter to them and to the role they have on offer. Be unique.
Tip #2: Avoid a formula approach
Starting your cover letter with a basic sentence like: ‘My name is Jo and I am applying for the position as [add title]’ isn’t going to get you a gold star. Don’t you think the person reading the cover letter already knows what position is up for grabs? Don’t waste space. Get stuck into exciting content right away.
Tip #3: Keep it short
Keep your cover letter to one page and don’t feel obliged to fill that page from top to bottom. Less is more. Cover letters that spill over to more than one page can send the message that you aren’t great at summarising or being clear and succinct. Use short bullet points to make sure your cover letter is scannable.
Tip #4: Go beyond your resume
Use your cover letter to showcase the skills and attributes your employer wants. Demonstrate your interest in the field you’re applying for. Showcase a bit of your personality and sense of drive. Point to your relevant interests. Be wary about tooting your own horn too loudly. You don’t want the reader to think you’re ego-driven.
Tip #5: Highlight your strengths
Your cover letter should grab the attention of the reader immediately. You need to showcase your strengths and suitability for the role. Summarise your main skills and experience, listing the most compelling first. Outline specifics of what you bring to the company. Don’t include content on experience you don’t have.
Tip #6 Use words that sing
When writing your cover letter, use dynamic verbs and professional wording to make your cover letter sing. Use strong action words like ‘managed’, ‘analysed’, ‘initiated’. So don’t say you’ve ‘done’ something; say you’ve ‘achieved’ something. Don’t say you’re ‘experienced in a field’; say you have ‘xx years’ experience in the field, in xx and xx roles.’
Tip #7: Provide proof
General statements aren’t always believable statements. While you want to keep your cover letter short and sharp, add value to your case by providing numbers or evidence that demonstrate what you’re claiming. Therefore, don’t just say you ‘achieved a target’; say you ‘exceeded a target by xx %’.
Tip #8: Show you know
Don’t solely focus on yourself in your cover letter. This is your opportunity to showcase that you know a bit about the company and that you’re confident you can fit into its culture and add value to the team. Show you understand their vision and/or goals.
Tip #9: Fill the gaps
If you have gaps in your employment history, quickly explain them in your cover letter. For example, explain that you were on maternity or paternity leave, or were travelling or taking time out of the workforce to spend time with your family.
Tip #10: End on a strong note
Finish off your cover letter with a strong statement about your motivation and drive to get that position.
Tip #11: Format like a pro
Make sure your letter is formatted well and looks professional and polished. Use a clean font that is easy to read. Use white space effectively. Use headings effectively. Don’t use a tiny font or push your margins out just to cram more information in. What you’re doing will be obvious.
Tip #12: Proofread and then proofread again
Cover letters are evidence of your writing skills. Letters with typos or grammar errors do not leave a great impression. Quite the opposite. They leave the impression that you’re sloppy, a poor writer or both. Mistakes don’t speak to a professional approach, regardless of what type of job or level you’re applying for.
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