8 steps to building an impactful cover letter
When putting forward your application for a specific role, in most cases, a cover letter is required. The challenge here is that, while your resume forms the core part of your presentation, most hiring managers will read the cover letter first. So, if you ignore the importance of this document, and fail to represent yourself in the most advantageous way possible, there is a high possibility that the hiring manager will not even get to the resume part of your presentation. Taking a positive stance, however, a cover letter offers you an opportunity to genuinely engage your reader, inviting them into your resume with an already excellent opinion of you as a candidate. Like everything in life, it all depends on how you choose to look at it.
1. Remember the one question
Remember the one question rolling around the mind of an employer – how can this person help my business succeed? It’s not about you. Step into the shoes of the employer and address this question directly. People want to know, very clearly, what you can bring to the table. They already know that the position is great, and that their company is wonderful. Don’t waste your time with flattery throughout a cover letter. Employers are looking for people who can help them solve problems. Research the company, identify its pain points, clarify potential problems that they might be facing, and detail how your skill set and past experiences have helped develop you into the type of candidate ready to assist them with these specific problems.
2. Get straight to the point
How many times have we seen a cover letter that starts off with – I’m applying for job X, that I saw in this location, and the reason that I am applying for this role is x.’ What a waste of time and space. Of course you’re applying for the job, for that’s the whole reason you are writing the letter. Instead, start with something that’s going to stand out, something that will grab the reader’s attention. For example – I’m an X professional with more than 8-years of experience and am looking for an opportunity to apply X skills, developed through X experiences. Or, having just completed X project, I am confident in by capacity to deliver X to your business, which I have equated will result in X revenue.
3. Sell yourself
Selling yourself effectively is a skill of the upmost importance, and a topic not meant for this particular training program. What we will say here is that you must notice your fear of bragging. It is imperative that you present your very best self, even the self that you wish to become, but might currently only be working towards. Yes – make yourself sound as wonderful as possible. If you do not believe in yourself, and if you cannot see yourself not only succeeding within this role, but having an enormous impact on the business as a whole, then how do you expect an employer to see this vision? A cover letter offers you the opportunity to utilise persuasive language, explaining exactly why you want the role, and why this employer cannot look past you as a candidate. So, sell yourself.
4. Leverage job requirements
Similar to the idea of building out your resume by leveraging job descriptions, the cover letter should also be designed in a way that leverages the given job requirements. Please take the time necessary to analyse what these job requirements are and explore ways in which you can creatively and professionally represent these ideas throughout your cover letter, suggesting, very clearly and creatively, that you comfortably meet all desired criteria.
5. Simple is impactful
We have discussed the importance of adding a little bit of flair to your resume, but not so much that it becomes unprofessional. In the same way, when it comes to your cover letter, the purpose is not to land a design award. This is a letter, and so, it must be designed as one. Ensure that you use the same font, and font size, both within your resume, and your cover letter. This demonstrates consistency, and the last thing you want is a hiring manager struggling to read your application. It’s difficult enough to encourage the hiring manager to take the time to read through your presentation. Send through something that is designed very simply so that it is easy to read.
6. Tailor your work
We have suggested that a specific resume must be created to address different types of roles, but that the same resume can be used when addressing the same type of role across different companies. This does not hold true when it comes to your cover letter. A cover letter is not a reusable document. Of course, you might follow a similar format multiple times, but every position must be addressed individually and specifically. The market is simply too competitive to even be considered for a highly sought after position if you do not tailor your work specifically towards the role for which you are applying. Yes, it takes additional work, but if you want to apply for 10 roles, take the time to write 10 cover letters, and put yourself in the strongest possible position across the board.
7. Address the hiring manager
Never use generic salutations, such as 'To whom it may concern'. This approach goes against all of our advice around specific customisation. If the hiring manager’s name is not easily identifiable, simply address your cover letter to the head of the relevant department. If you do not address your cover letter to anyone in particular, if received, it may be passed around between individuals, with nobody taking the time to do anything about it. If you address it to an individual, it will be placed in front of that individual to action. The most traditional, and probably still the best way to address a cover letter, is by using the person’s first and last name, including a Mr. or Ms. For example – Ms. Michelle Jones. If you'd like to keep it a little more casual, the person's first name will suffice in most situations.
8. Stop apologising
What should you do if you don’t meet all of the job requirements? What if you don’t quite match the exact years of experience within your chosen field? What if you’re close, but ultimately fall short of all educational requirements? Maybe, when you are constructing your presentation, you might start off with – While I may not have this, or while I don’t exactly match that… no no no. Firstly, never stop yourself applying. Always apply. The worst that will happen is you hear the word no, which we view as a yes in the making. Secondly, stop apologising. Demonstrate confidence, self-respect, and the willingness to push yourself into uncomfortable situations that pull on your insecurity strings. You don’t really know what the hiring manager is looking for. Present your very best self, and let the cards fall where they may. Rather than highlighting your weaknesses, or the items that you are missing, emphasise your strengths, the wonderful traits that you do possess, and progress forward.