In a competitive jobs market where you’re going up against multiple other candidates you need to do whatever you can to differentiate yourself and stand out. In this guest post from Gary Robinson, Head of Marketing at Crunch Accounting, he explains how a cover letter, if done well, can help to give you this edge.
A cover letter seems a bit old fashioned today, doesn't it?
Even its name suggests something of a bygone era. The piece of paper you attached to your printed or typed out CV, before you pop it in an envelope ready to take to the post box. The note, beginning with a 'Dear Sir/Madam', a few lines of 'I'd like to apply for the job of...' and wrapped up with a 'thank you for your consideration'.
And anyway, when you apply online nowadays, the job boards have helpfully already supplied a little note for you. Seems a bit excessive to write one yourself, doesn't it?
The Internet is a wonderful thing, and has improved so many slow, cumbersome processes. Things can now be done in an instant - the internet is all about convenience at your fingertips.
However, just because something is easier, doesn't mean it's right or better. You can put the reduction of the covering letter down to a couple of pre-formatted, impersonal lines of text firmly in that category.
Consider these three points:
The takeaway here is that you've got a battle on your hands to stand out from the crowd. A generic cover letter will be dismissed instantly. One that actually has something to say, might just buy you more than 10 seconds of a recruiter's time.
1. If they've supplied a name in the advert, use it. If not, Dear Sir/Madam is fine.
2. Make sure you talk about how your skills and experience are relevant to the job. It's surprising how often this gets overlooked. Use the details supplied in the ad - make it clear how you tick their boxes. Don't just repeat the highlights of your CV.
3. Refer to how you can help the company meet its goals. These are often directly or indirectly stated in the ad, but if not, use your initiative to figure it out. Even a near miss is likely to score you points, as you demonstrate you're aware of the position's role in contributing to the larger goal.
4. Make sure the opening paragraph states the job title and/or reference number of the role to which you're applying. It's a minor detail but it's worth taking the doubt or question from the recruiter's mind when processing a pile of CVs.
5. Grab the reader's attention early - how are you going to help them? The recruiter may have a tendency to skim read applications so give her a reason to take a little more time with yours. Put your best selling point upfront.
6. Include contact details on the covering letter, just in case it gets separated from the rest of your CV.
7. If possible, give an example of how you met a similar challenge in a previous role. Numbers can help emphasise a point, i.e. Increased revenue from online sales by x% year on year at ABC Ltd.
8. Brevity is a wonderful thing. Don't waffle; keep it short and to the point. This should all fit on one page.
9. End with a relevant benefit-encompassing call to action to prompt contact, i.e. I look forward to meeting with you soon to discuss further how I can help increase the profitability of your marketing activity.
10. Don't forget to spellcheck and proof read. Do not rely on your computer's spellcheck alone. It won't spot errors such as 'accounts' when you meant 'accountants'. Give it to someone else to read too, just to make sure.
Some of those things may seem like common sense... and you'd be right. So why do so many people fail to do them?
One of the criticisms of cover letters I've heard from job seekers concerns the time it takes to prepare them. When times are tough and the competition for roles is fierce, it's often the case that a jobseeker would need to apply to a lot of roles before they get a sniff of an interview.
"It's unrealistic to expect me to write a personalised cover letter for every job"
I hear you. It's not exactly a fun way to spend your free time. But bear these two points in mind:
1. The very fact that competition is fierce for a handful of roles means you have to do something if you want to be noticed. It's can be painful and frustrating, but you're going to have to invest some time.
2. The first cover letter is the one that takes the most time. Subsequent ones will become quicker and easier as you'll soon find a pattern to the layout emerging. Use this as a template or framework for each letter, tailoring the content for each application. Just make sure you proofread thoroughly - you'll lose credibility if you leave the name of a different company in the cover letter for an application (which happens a lot more often than you'd think)
So there you go, a quick guide to writing a covering letter. There is no guarantee that it will get you an interview, but it should help you stand out from the crowd.
About the Author: Gary Robinson spent 14 years in the UK recruitment industry, marketing the industry leading job board Jobsite.co.uk, before making the switch to market-disrupting online accountants, Crunch.co.uk. He also writes a blog detailing his thoughts on all things digital marketing http://www.itsdigitalmarketing.co.uk/
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