A cover letter is often all that you have to sell yourself to a potential employer. It is not uncommon for them to receive so many applications for jobs that they have no chance to read all of the resumes received. If you’re considering applying for jobs in the new year, make sure you read these 10 tips for writing a great cover letter.
For popular positions, it is not unusual for employers to simply have a quick scan through the covering letters before they make a short-list for interviewing. Often they will only look at the resumes of those who have made that short-list. Therefore for you to have any chance of success, your cover letter has to stand out from the crowd. It has to attract a potential employer enough so that they will slow down and read it in full. If they like what they see they are then likely to make the effort to read through your resume.
Here are some tips to make your cover letter stand out from the crowd:
1. Customise every letter
Make certain that you use a customised cover letter for every application. Do not use a standard form letter, the same for every position you apply for.
2. Address your cover letter to the person that will read it
If at all possible, address your cover letter to the person responsible for hiring at the firm you are applying to. If you do not know who they are, address the letter to To Whom It May Concern or even Dear Employment Manager.
3. Format your letter correctly
If you are writing an actual cover letter (as opposed to simply filling out an online form) make certain that you lay the letter out, using the correct format. Start with your contact information (address, phone, email address) at the top left, followed by the date and the Dear Mrs Jones or To Whom It May Concern Follow this with the contents of your letter and then the salutation, which will be Yours Sincerely if you used the person’s name at the top, or Yours Faithfully otherwise.
4. Follow conventional keyboarding practices
Use a size 11 or 12 font, preferably a simple one like Ariel, Times New Roman or Calibri (the standard font in recent versions of Microsoft Word). Use single spacing with a line between paragraphs. Do not indent your paragraphs, but keep them against the left margin.
5. Write clearly & concisely
Keep your cover letter to a single page. If it grows bigger than this, then you need to go through and prune it, taking out any unnecessary information or language.
6. Look closely at the advertised job position
This will tell you what the employer is actually looking for. In your cover letter describing how you match up to the skill and experience requirements of the position.
7. Make your cover letter interesting
Briefly, tell your story. Mention any mutual contacts you have – it does make a difference if you can say, “Jim Smith recommended that I get in touch with you”.
8. Double-check that you have used perfect English
No spelling, punctuation or grammar errors. Get someone else to read it for you if need be. You can use Word’s spelling and grammar checkers to help you (making certain that you have changed the language to Australian English first) but don’t totally rely on them – they are not perfect.
9. Use an appropriate subject name
If you make your application by email make certain that you use an appropriate Subject name. It is a good idea for the body of your email to include a short message including your name and the job title that you are applying for, with a reference to your cover letter and resume being attached.
10. Always submit a cover letter given the chance
Even if you apply fully online you are likely to be given the chance to upload a cover letter. Do so, making certain that it follows all these guides. If, as quite often seems to be the case, the online program does not accept your .docx file (from newer versions of Microsoft Word) either convert to the older .doc format or convert it to .pdf. Make certain that everything else you type in the online forms is also spelt correctly and is grammatically correct. Most importantly of all, remember to actually attach the documents to the email!
From a potential employer’s point of view, your cover letter is the first hurdle they set. It does not matter how good you are, or how brilliant your resume is, if the employer takes one look at your cover letter and discards it, moving onto the next person.