While a CV is a snapshot of your experience, cover letters are a golden opportunity to show a potential employer how you are uniquely suited to fill the position you are applying for.
So how do you write the perfect cover letter? While there are no hard and fast rules, these few simple guidelines can help you get it right:
READ THE JOB POSTING CAREFULLY
The job posting can give you most of the information you need to write a cover letter that highlights the traits your potential employer really cares about. Mention the skills listed in the job posting and illustrate your relevant expertise and experience.
DO YOUR RESEARCH
If you know the name of the company, take some time to research what it does, who its competitors are and who its customers are. Has it been in the news lately? Is it known for anything unique in the industry? Is it facing any current challenges?
If you don’t know the name of the company, as is often the case when employment agencies are doing the recruiting, you can still research the industry and the position you are applying for. What does the role require? What are the industry norms? Look for topics and challenges that are repeated across an industry.
Once you find this essential information you can demonstrate how you can meet the requirements and challenges of the industry, while showing a potential employer that you have a real interest in the role.
TAILOR YOUR PITCH TO A JOB
A cover letter should always be tailored to the organisation and job you’re applying to. The letter is about you, but don’t make that obvious. Instead focus on the company and the job.
Explain what job you are applying for, why you are applying for it, what appeals to you about the role and why you would love to work for this organisation. Then highlight why you would be suitable for the job – but make sure you don’t repeat the information on your CV.
Remember, a cover letter is a pitch. Show a clear understanding of the challenges the company faces and be clear about how you can be an asset to the company. Don’t overstep. If you’re applying for a job as a cashier, it’s entirely appropriate to talk about how you went above and beyond your duties as a cashier for another organisation. However, you don’t want to share your insights on how you would run the company – not just yet.
GET THE FORMAT RIGHT
Recruiters are busy people so you want to make it easy for them to hire you. With this in mind, a clear structure and easy-to-read format is always the best strategy.
First, whenever possible address the letter to a specific person. This is where your research comes in handy.
- Size matters
Get to the point while making sure you don’t leave anything out. If your cover letter is too short, you risk leaving out important points. However, long and rambling shows a lack of focus and runs the risk of not being read at all. A good length is generally half of an A4 sheet of paper to a maximum of one page.
- Spelling counts
Last but not least, do be sure to run spellcheck and proofread your letter before you send it out. According to a well-know job search engine, one in three CVs and cover letters contains a spelling error. This will often result in your letting being filed immediately in the rubbish.