How to write a cover letter?
Cover letters are dead. They’ve gone the way of the dinosaurs. No one reads them. A total waste of time… right?
ZipRecruiter, Jobvite, Grammarly, Glassdoor - they all write about the demise of the cover letter. Some blame technology, others highlight the attention span of recruiters and hiring managers, but whatever the case, cover letters appear to be diminishing in value.
(*We’ve even discussed this subject previously, in Do you still need a cover letter?)
So... if this is true and cover letters are the latest recruitment dodo, why are we sharing best practices on how to write them?
Read on below, or ask one of the team directly via firstname.lastname@example.org
Why do we send cover letters?
If your answer includes “because the application asked for one”, “I thought I had too?”, or you’re just staring at the screen blankly trying to think of a response - you really need to keep reading.
Cover letters are not just another admin task to be completed when applying for jobs. If you’re treating them this way and sending the same generic cover letter for every application, stop. They won't be helping you in the slightest.
Cover letters should be succinctly tailored to each individual vacancy and employer. They shouldn’t be a CV duplication or rehash. Think of them as bespoke elevator pitches. You have 30-60 seconds in which to make a hiring manager think - “you’ve got my attention”.
It may be true that cover letters are often skimmed over or ignored completely - a dying breed. But there are still some scenarios in-which cover letters are read, granting you the first (and sometimes only) opportunity to inspire interest in your story beyond the CV. Better safe than sorry...
“I don’t personally see an appeal in them, given the current state of the market and how quick it is to now apply for jobs (quite literally a tinder swipe to the right). The most common cover letter I see, is the same one people use for every application - and it doesn’t look good. I think the best action for applicants is write personalised copy, or ring the recruiter directly. This is a nice personable touch and gives them a chance to verbally portray their profile and how applicable it is for the vacancy.”
- Nathan Keighley - Business Analyst Recruitment Consultant, Caspian One
What does a quality cover letter look like? - Our breakdown
1. Format / Typography / Length:
This is not War and Peace. Quality cover letters are concise and quick to digest; think half a page of A4 max. This simplicity should also be reflected in layout and your chosen font. Short, precise paragraphs in a standard black system font are perfect - not bright red Comic Sans essays.
2. Greeting / Introduction:
How you start your letter can have a tremendous impact on it’s tone and a reader interest levels. ‘To whom it may concern…’ is cold and implies you’ve not done your research in advance (who are you sending this to?). On the other-hand ‘Alrite John’ or ‘Hi mate’ are much to colloquial.
The job advert will likely include information on who to address, or it will be available on the company website / LinkedIn. ‘Dear Mr.Smith’ or ‘Hello Mr.Smith’ are ideal to use. Where a contact is not provided ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ is suitable, but avoid where possible.
Keep it short and to the point. Why you’re writing the letter, what position you’re applying for, how you learnt about the vacancy and your availability. That’s it. Even if the rest of your cover letter isn’t read, at least the recruiter will know what you’re applying for.
4. Suitability / Story / Experience
This midsection is really the crux of your cover letter. Here you need to make the big sell on why you are suitable for the role. Be careful to avoid being too keen, personal or self focused. “I think your company is amazing and this role would be great for me, because it will really help me develop my career - away from my current awful boss.” - just no.
Focus on how your skills, qualifications and experiences will benefit the employer without simply repeating what’s stated on your CV. Try responding to the job advert by answering requirements requested, with a brief examples that demonstrate your abilities. If the advert asks for managerial experience and you’re currently managing a team that have successfully delivered a project, make reference to this.
Research the company you’re applying to. Explore more than what’s listed on the job advert. Who are there competitors? What’s their culture like? What direction are they heading as a business? Use what you learn to align yourself with that business.
Remember, you’re trying emphasise what you can do for a company so it’s vital you ensure your language and tone reflect this. Whilst you don’t want to be overly personal, this is your opportunity to make an emotional connection with the reader, outside of the normal constraints of the CV.
5. Close / Reiterate
By now, everything that needs to be said - should of been said. The ‘close’ is simply a reiteration of your core points, linked with a clear call to action message. Outline again very precisely, why you should be considered for the position and finish by setting next step expectations. Whether that’s waiting to hear from the company or following up in a week by phone, make it clear.
Start with your name, address and contact details - a typical letter format, right-hand aligned
Include the company name and address - top, left aligned
Include the job reference
Write in the first person
Date your letter
Ensure your CV is also provided
Avoid - using the same copy each time, oversharing, copy and pasting your CV content, focusing on your needs over the company's, drawing attention to weaknesses, being an enthusiastic superfan.
Also avoid - cliches, cheesy lines, being arrogant, overselling yourself, or straight out lying.
Do not add a photo
Do not write an essay. Keep it short. Concise.
If possible, sign by hand.
Also also avoid - generic comments, a lack of research, ignoring what the job advert asks for, typos, going off subject and listing references.
In summary, cover letters aren’t always required or read even, but not supplying one can be more detrimental than including one.
Our top 3 takeaways from this article - tailor your copy, get to the point, and don’t simply repeat your CV.
If you’re still unsure about cover letters and would like to speak with one of the team, contact us or comment below!