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Why cover letters are still crucial to your job application, and how to make yours stand out 

By Jane Donnelly, Managing Director East of England

 

Writing a cover letter can help your job application stand out to a hiring manager or recruiter. Taking the time to write one makes you seem proactive, as well as someone who cares for the role they’ve applied for.

Let’s go back to basics. What is a cover letter? This is a document that candidates submit alongside their CV when applying for a job. It enables you to introduce yourself as a professional, along with outlining why you are a good fit for the role, before the hiring manager finds out more about you in your CV.

Not all candidates will create a personalised cover letter, so by writing one you will attract the attention of the reader. As Jodi Glickman, a communications expert and author of Great on the Job, has observed: “Not sending a cover letter is a sign of laziness. It’s akin to making spelling and grammar mistakes in your resume. You just don’t do it.”

When writing your cover letter, you should:

  • Make it personal. As information is so freely available today, not addressing the cover letter personally to the hiring manager or getting the address wrong aren’t excuses anymore. Also, you shouldn’t copy and paste a generic cover letter to each role you apply for- make it personal to the reader every time. Employers can tell when you edit a few words of the same cover letter that you send to everyone else, which can suggest you have little interest in the role.
  • Start with a strong intro to attract the reader. The first sentence of your cover letter will determine whether you grab the hiring managers attention, so it needs to demonstrate that you understand what they are looking for. Instantly highlight your strengths that will help to solve the hiring manager’s problems, such as relevant industry knowledge, experiences, skills and achievements, instead of the generic “I’m applying for the role of XXX.”
  • Research the employer. This will help you use the appropriate tone in your cover letter and what you should include. You should look at things such as the organisation’s industry, values and culture. As well as sources from the organisation’s official website and social media profiles, its executives’ social media profiles and any online employee reviews.
  • Mention whether this opportunity came via a friend or have a previous connection with the organisation. Maybe you were previously introduced to the hiring manager by this person, because they thought you were a good fit for the role? Or perhaps you crossed paths as an intern or an employee at one of the company’s suppliers or competitors?
  • Sign off professionally. Conclude the main body of the cover letter with a power phrase such as, “I would like to discuss in greater detail the value I could bring to your organisation,” and close with the formal and widely accepted “Best regards” or “Sincerely”.
  • Spell check and ensure the formatting is correct. If you’re submitting your cover letter as an attachment online, write it in a Word document so that the program can flag up obvious issues like misspellings. Also, check that any formatting in Word translates properly into the email or online form. In terms of formatting, break any intimidating blocks of text into more readable paragraphs and bullet points.

What you shouldn’t do when writing your cover letter:

  • Don’t forget the finer points. Do you know the name of the recipient so that you can address the cover letter to them personally? What about confirming your availability and signing off appropriately? It’s small touches like these that could help you to stand out from other candidates.
  • Don’t use unusual fonts. Use a standard professional font like Arial, which is readable and clean. This isn’t just about making the right impression on hiring managers and lessening their eye strain, as the automated scanning systems can struggle with more unusual fonts.
  • Don’t write in the third person. A cover letter is, after all, a letter, addressed directly to the employer. You are using this document to sell yourself, as well as trying to make it sufficiently conversational to engage the reader. Not only to make you seem professional, but also highlight your personality and interest in the role.
  • Don’t try to flatter, as this could risk you coming across as insecure or insincere. Professionalism, authenticity and maturity are vital qualities to communicate from the beginning of your relationship with the employer.
  • Don’t repeat yourself.  Make sure you’re not just repeating what you’ve said on your CV or LinkedIn profile – a cover letter should be complementary to these other means of marketing yourself professionally and should therefore support and enhance your story. Why does your background or interests make you suitable for the role?

How to write a cover letter

While the purpose of the cover letter has never changed, the way it is presented and submitted has evolved. For example, cover letters can now take the form of a personalised note to add to your LinkedIn application or an email attaching your CV.

Your cover letter needs to communicate that you are genuinely interested in the opportunity that the given role represents and why. This means the letter needs to be tailored, and not just a standard letter that you’ve edited. Here below is an example of how your cover letter should look.

 

Example cover letter

54 Queen Yakas Street

Name

Phone Number

Email

LinkedIn URL

Organisation Name

Address

Date

Dear Mr Alexander Gook,

 

Subject line: Experienced senior manager for X position

I was previously introduced to your company by your colleague, George Page, at the recent X economics fair, and became particularly intrigued by the work you do and the culture of the business. Subsequently, I was especially excited to see the role of X recently advertised on your website.

I believe my 20 years as a senior executive for one of the biggest names in the X sector, overseeing a 30 per cent rise in revenues over the last half-decade, uniquely equips me to build upon the experience I already have, apply my knowledge and skills to the role of X, and dedicate myself wholeheartedly to your business. From reviewing the job description, I believe that I am a great match for this role and could become a key team player in helping your business to attain its ambitions.

I would like to draw your attention to the following skills and achievements that I would appreciate the opportunity to build on as your brand’s next X:

  • An influential player in the transformation of my present company from a small business generating £2.2 million in annual revenue with an 18-member staff team, into one of the most thriving and respected firms in its industry, employing 48 staff and recording revenue of £26.2 million last year. I would be delighted to draw upon my skills and contacts to further Pinsent Media’s own ambitious growth objectives
  • The conceptualisation and establishment of such strategic initiatives as X, X and X, as reported by Forbes and HuffPost and driving the company to new heights of operational success. These achievements are highly relevant to Pinsent Media’s intention for its next X to assist in significantly expanding its international media profile and reputation for innovation

Thank you for your consideration. I have attached my CV and look forward to speaking to you further about this opportunity.

Yours sincerely,

Thomas O’Flanagan

 

The basis of a successful cover letter is straightforward. It needs to be interesting, as well as leave the reader feel intrigued to find out more about you by reading your CV. By following the tips above, you will make yourself seem more attractive as a candidate so that you have a greater likelihood of being shortlisted for an interview.

About this author

Jane joined Hays in 1994 as an Associate. Initially recruiting within the Accounting and Finance in Scotland she progressed to Regional Director in 1999 running all Hays Finance, Office Support and Customer Contact recruitment across the North East of England.

Moving to Hays Australia in 2001 as Regional Director for offices across the Sydney and Canberra specialisms included Finance, Procurement, IT, and Banking. Jane also launched Hays Life Sciences in Australia and was instrumental in the development of the national Healthcare and Education business. In 2006 Jane was appointed a Senior Regional Director.

Jane returned to the UK in July 2013 initially completing a number of operational project roles in Cambridge and Chelmsford before taking responsibility, in 2015, as Regional Director for 6 offices across Essex and Suffolk. In 2017 Jane was appointed as the Managing Director for the East of England region, covering 17 offices. She also currently sits on the council for the CBI in the East of England.

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