Cover letter tips: How to make your application stand out


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When you are looking for a new job, the cover letter plays a key role in your job application. The information you include and the way you talk about yourself will provide the recruiter with the first bit of insight into who you are, whether or not you make a good job candidate and, most importantly, whether or not he or she wants to meet with you to discuss your application further.

The purpose of the cover letter, even more so than that of the resume, is to get you the job interview. When composing the letter, it is essential to make an effort to leave a good first impression, one that will compel the prospective employer to want to meet with you. On the most basic level, this means you need to make sure that you print the letter out on clean paper and check the spelling and grammar for errors.

How to address the letter and where to start?

When writing the cover letter for your job application, you will find the most useful information you need in the job advertisement. This information usually includes the name of the employer or recruiter to whom you will address the letter, and the list of skills and professional experience required for the job for which you are applying. You should always address the letter to a specific person – ''Dear Mr./Ms. Smith'' – to let the recruiter know that you have read the job advertisement and are not just sending out the same form letter to a number of different employers. If a name is not provided in the ad, you can always use a general salutation, e.g. ''Dear Sir or Madam,'' ''Dear Hiring Manager,'' etc.

While the details of your relevant work experience belong in the CV, it is very important to bring them up in the cover letter, and to do so in a way that will grab the recruiter's interest and make him or her want to keep reading. Mentioning your qualifications does not only let the employer know that you are a suitable candidate for the job, but also that you understand what the requirements are and that you are in command of the skills and knowledge that will get the job done.

Cover letter template and style

A cover letter typically consists of three paragraphs, whether you are applying for a job or an internship.

In the opening paragraph, you introduce yourself and say which job you are applying for. For the recruiter's reference, you can also mention where you saw the job advertisement. Then, in a few brief sentences, you state your case and explain why you wish to apply for the job.

The second paragraph is where you generally provide more information about yourself as a qualified candidate for the position. While composing this paragraph, think about the job skills and experience that will make you stand out among other candidates. Go over the highlights in your CV and think about the ways to match them to the qualifications provided by the employer in the job advertisement. Let the recruiter see that you understand what the job entails and which set of skills the employer is looking for. Don't write your career summary, but simply mention your key strengths. The recruiter can find the rest in your CV.

In the last paragraph, you can just briefly reiterate your eagerness to join the employer's team and ask for an opportunity to discuss the job further at a job interview. If you are sending your cover letter in an e-mail, you can also provide your other contact information here, such as a phone number and address, or refer to it if it is included in your e-mail signature.

If you are sending your CV by regular mail, you can place your contact information in the heading, and the employer's address in the top left corner, above the salutation. If you intend to follow up with a telephone call to confirm that the recruiter has received your application or, if appropriate, to set up an appointment for an informational interview, you should indicate a time frame.

How long should the letter be?

A cover letter should not be longer than a page. Recruiters are busy people, and they tend to go through piles of job applications very quickly, so if you are going to get their attention, you need to do it within those several paragraphs. To accomplish that, your letter needs to be brief and to the point. While this does not mean that you should sacrifice substance for the sake of brevity, it is important to make the distinction between your proudest achievements and what the employer needs before you start writing the letter. Then, work the job requirements into your application, and explain how they match your skills.

A good cover letter does not only deliver the most relevant career information about the candidate, but it also demonstrates his or her communication skills and ability to see what is important. Letters that are too long or contain unnecessary personal information can raise doubts in this respect. Other than providing career information, the cover letter also needs to show the employer that you are individualising the application and not sending them out by the dozens and waiting to see who will take the bait.

Unless the job advertisement specifically calls for a motivation letter, you should not treat the cover letter as one. A cover letter serves as an introduction to your CV, nothing more. While it is always a good idea to briefly explain why you wish to join the employer's company, this should not distract from the main objective of your application, which is to get the recruiter's interest as a qualified candidate and to get you to a job interview. If the recruiter is curious about your motivation, that can be a topic of discussion during the interview.

The thing to remember is that you have three paragraphs to convince the recruiter than you are a serious candidate for the job and that he or she is not wasting time by considering you for the position. If you have the right qualifications in your resume, this should be an easy task, and the prospective employer has already provided you with the single most important thing you can use for guidance: the job advertisement.


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