I’ve never liked working on Cover Letters with my clients and I often say I wish they’d disappear off the face of the Earth.
Two thoughts, though. First, unfortunately, they’re still with us and unlikely to disappear any time soon. Second, I recently helped to recruit two roles and I was amazed at the effect the various letters (or lack of letters) had on me as I sat in the employer seat.
My most negative response was when the applicant did not even write a letter. I immediately felt insulted, as though they didn’t care enough about the possibility of working for our company to jot down a few words.
So, ALWAYS write a letter, even if one is not specifically requested in the job ad.
Don’t just take my word for it. The following statistics should make you think twice about dismissing the importance of the Cover Letter. Here’s what employers say:
My brother Peter’s role has recently been made redundant so of course, he approached me to help him write a strong and compelling letter.
If I were being polite, Peter’s first effort was what I call ‘thin’. Because he’s my brother I was much franker and told him it read like a stock standard response that he was using to apply for all roles, with a few minor modifications.
Peter’s letter did NOT make me think:
The first issue, in my opinion, is the hardest part of the letter to write. How to sound as though you really connect with the role and the organisation, in a formal letter without sounding over the top or schmaltzy?
My advice is to first write from the heart. Put down exactly what it is about the role that appeals to you, in ordinary everyday language. That way, it should ring true. You can go back later and clean it up, using more formal language if necessary. Use pen and paper not the keyboard: that way, you are more likely to avoid impersonal business language.
In relation to the second issue, if you are struggling to fit all of your content on one page, it’s a good sign that you have covered all the key elements of the role. Here, again, it is important to avoid sterile, cold ‘corporate speak’ language.
Match your content to the seniority of the role but write in a professionally chatty way. Your résumé is fiercely formal – what’s the point of producing another document that has the same impersonal tone?
Take the opportunity of painting a different picture of yourself in the letter. I call it ‘passing the aeroplane test’, as in ‘I’d be happy sitting next to him in a plane’. Your next possible boss is reading your letter. You want her to think, ‘This person seems nice and normal. I can see myself working with him.’
Make the letter specific to the job: an employer spots a generic letter a mile off.
Once you have painted a compelling picture of why you are the ‘star’ applicant, ask a friend who’s good with English to help you hone the content.
OK, we’ve settled your strategic approach to the Cover Letter. It’s time to move to practical matters.
The best Cover Letters are infused with energy, personality and key details about your skills and achievements. Here’s how to do it.
Finally, follow up the letter with a call. Continue the sales process by sounding like someone they would like to work with – alert, intelligent and enthusiastic. (Don’t ask about salary!)
Life is tough when you apply for an advertised position. It’s an often-quoted statistic that only five percent of people find their next role this way (versus 65% for Networking).
It makes sense to start this highly competitive process with a compelling letter that makes the reader think:
‘Wow, this one looks great! Can’t wait to read the résumé to find out more…’
That way, you’ve nailed the Cover Letter.
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