What does a cover letter need to get noticed?
- First and foremost don’t write a letter – it may seem obvious but one turned up on my desk the other day along with a CV. If you’re not emailing your CV along with a covering email or attached cover letter then you have just ruled yourself out of the process
- Secondly, remember to sell yourself. A cover letter is a sales pitch and while you may think you are too good to sell yourself this is the reality of a competitive job market.
- Demonstrate interest in the job. Sounds obvious, right? But so many people don’t bother to do homework on the company to which they are applying, or simply fire off a CV with an obviously generic cover letter or email. Reference something about what you have learned or what they are looking for in your cover letter. This is your opportunity to tailor the needs of the company to the capabilities you offer.
- Make it concise. A good cover letter is a page, preferably with bullet points and gets to the point quickly. Make the obvious skills stand out – ‘this is what I have accomplished.’
- Omit the conditional. Avoid statements such as, ‘given the conditions’, or ‘given the circumstances’ as this detracts from the power of your message.
- Avoid the passive voice. Using the passive voice makes you sound like a bystander. Instead of “Our effort was led by me,” write, “I led our effort.” This isn’t an invitation to claim the achievements of a team or company as your own, but if you led the effort then you need to highlight it.
- The caveat to this is that you need to be humble too. You are pitching yourself but remember that as a leader you achieve good results through the efforts of others. It is always good to mention how you work well with and through others.
- Make sure you proof read it and sense check it. If you have a spell checker use it, but make sure you don’t rely on it for your final proof.
What not to put in a cover letter
- Don’t claim to be the ideal candidate. We’ve seen plenty of candidates that claim to be the best person for the job; unless you have a detailed knowledge of all the other applicants then focus on your skills and experience.
- Don’t say you’re a hard worker. This one might be excusable if you’re new to the job market, but if you’ve been around a while and you’re trying to advance your career by emphasizing how hard you work rather than how effectively or efficiently you work, or most importantly, what you actually accomplish, no competent hiring manager will give you a second thought.
- Don’t be impersonal. Never, ever write, “To whom it may concern.” Address the cover letter to a specific person, either the hiring manager or the recruiter. You can do a little detective work on the company’s Website or on LinkedIn to find the right name, or just call and ask if you don’t already have that information. If you aren’t sure, though, my recommendation is to not address it to anyone at all. I’d rather get a cover letter that omits the greeting entirely than be confronted by “dear hiring manager.”
- Don’t say when you’ll follow up. For some reason, some people think they should specify the timescale, often a specific date and time, when the recruiter or hiring manager should be available for them to follow up. Irrespective of whether they are available or not don’t attempt to take control of the hiring process, this is not your role in the process. And don’t try to be proactive by ignoring the process and contacting the company or hiring manager direct – nothing good will ever come of it.