Today, we’ll dissect the humble and often misunderstood job search tool known as the cover letter. No doubt, you’re here because you need to get your hands on one before you can hit the “apply” button.
Sure, it’s simple enough to download a cover letter template from the Internet (plus a resume template, while you’re there), plug in your personal information and Grammarly your way to a typo-less tomorrow.
But deep down inside, a nagging part of you realises that this approach would sell you short. After all, the Australian job market is quite competitive.
A better strategy would be to read a step-by-step guide that shows you how to write an impactful cover letter, so that your job application has the best chances of success.
Of course, you know what a cover letter does, thank you very much. But stick with me here. Because clearly articulating your cover letter’s purpose and definition will help you find the right words down the track.
Definition: a cover letter is a brief introductory note that accompanies your resume when you apply for a job.
Purpose: to express, in an economy of words, why you are the best candidate for the job.
Take note of the “brief” and “economy of words” parts – they will come in useful later.
That aside, writing a cover letter seems to be a relatively straightforward affair, right?
Yet, in my experience, the mere thought of writing a cover letter can stir up panic in the hearts of even the most senior executives.
The intensity of this reaction speaks volumes about the importance of this document. Because unless you have an insider connection, your cover letter can make or break your chances of getting an interview.
It’s often your first point of contact with either the recruiter or hiring manager of the job you want. It’s up to you not to blow that opportunity.
Now, let’s address the elephant in the room.
Do Recruiters Even Read Cover Letters?
Over the last 5 years, there have been numerous and inconclusive studies conducted to answer this question. Here’s the upshot: some recruiters absolutely don’t read cover letters.
To muddy the waters more, if the recruiter doesn’t read your cover letter, the hiring manager might – if you make it that far.
Hardly definitive, and you could spin wildly off-track debating this for too long. Regardless of recruiter behaviour, you need to decide whether or not a cover will be valuable for your situation.
You have 3 options:
Don’t write a cover letter. Let your resume promote you on its own. Maybe it will be seen, maybe not.
Write a quick’n’nasty cover letter. If it gets read, your resume likely won’t be.
Craft a unique, impactful & thoughtful cover letter. Invest the time and, chances are, both your cover letter and resume will see the light of day.
Raise your hand if you’re in for Option 3. I see you out there. Follow me forward.
How To Write A Cover Letter (That Actually Gets Read).
We’ve already established that your cover letter should be brief. In other words, one page. Which means every word needs to pack a punch.
But before we delve into the finer details, we need to cover off on the basics.
4 Crucial Sections Of Your Letter.
1. The Formalities.
This includes the header of your cover letter template, your name, title, contact info, as well as name and contact details of the person you’re writing to.
Importantly, it should also include the “Re:” sentence which clearly shows the role you’re applying for.
Here’s an example:
2. The First Paragraph.
This paragraph should explain why you’re writing.
Focus on communicating your suitability for the role. Don’t simply list your attributes here – ensure that your attributes begin to form a value proposition.
3. The Middle Paragraph(s).
Continue to expand on your value proposition. In other words, add secondary and tertiary reasons that confirm your suitability for the role.
Write a list of 3 or more achievements that offer tangible proof of your capabilities. (Read this post to radically increase the power of your achievements).
Take a look at this example:
4. The Wrap.
Conclude your cover letter by throwing in a few more value points.
Thank the potential employer for the opportunity.
5 Things To Include In Your Cover Letter:
1. Your Name And Contact Information.
Stick to your email address and mobile phone number. No need to include a physical address, and definitely not a landline (outdated).
Keep messaging consistent with your resume and LinkedIn profile. This helps recruiters to identify and remember you.
Speaking of your resume, similar rules apply – read this article to make sure your resume contains the right details.
2. Recipient’s Personal Salutation.
Research the name of the recruiter or hiring manager and either use their first name or their full name. Avoid the Mr/Ms game as it’s overly formal.
Also to be avoided: generic salutations such as “Dear Hiring Manager”. If you can’t find their name, ditch the salutation and dive right into your message.
3. Role You’re Applying For.
List the name of the job you’re after to avoid any confusion.
However, there’s no need to state when and where you saw the job listing as this will be tracked online and makes you appear out of touch with the market and digital job search.
4. Your Value Proposition.
With the precision of a samurai, explain why you are the best candidate for the role. (More on this later).
For now, it suffices to say that here’s where you choose the juicy bits from your resume that tie to the key points from the job description. This is key.
5. Good Story (If You Have One).
The most effective cover letters can capture the recruiter’s attention in the midst of their chaotic day.
Is there a unique experience you’ve had with their brand? A genuine way to create an emotional connection? This is powerful, but tricky. It needs to be sincere and succinct. Otherwise, skip it.
5 Things NOT To Include In Your Cover Letter:
1. Fake Enthusiasm.
Leading with how excited you were to find the role, or how thrilled you would be to get the job, smacks of insincerity and mediocrity – as though you have nothing substantive to say.
Worse, those exclamatory phrases will make you sound just like every other applicant claiming to be jumping up and down at the other end of the letter.
Evenif you don’t have every single bit of experience the job description calls for, or if you have a gap in experience, don’t downplay your candidacy.
Instead, explain why you are still the best candidate despite whatever obstacles you perceive in your background. Of course, if you are woefully underqualified, consider if this application is worth everyone’s time.
3. Rehash Of Your Resume.
Yes, your cover letter should include a few highly relevant details from your resume. But it should not waste the reader’s time by simply regurgitating each facet of your resume.
Focus on the aspects of your experience that matter most to the role at hand.
4. List Of Careers “Brags”.
True, your cover letter is a marketing piece and is your foot in the door. However, coming across as arrogant or positioning yourself as the answer to the hiring manager’s prayers will likely backfire on you.
Example: “Outsold everyone on my team with my take-no-prisoners attitude.” No one wants to work with a jerk or a braggart.
5. Buzz Words And Fluff.
Avoid using words like “seasoned professional”, “team player”, “proven leader”, etc. They will only serve to make you sound the same as everyone else.
Remember, you only have room for a handful of strong paragraphs. Don’t be flowery or overly formal with your language. Be clear, concise and compelling or you risk losing your reader – and your shot at the job.
Cover Letter Templates [Free Download].
Even though you’re learning how to write a unique cover letter, there’s nothing wrong with drawing inspiration from a few cover letter templates.
In fact, they’re really handy for guidance on the basic structure. And they can be a great way to organise your thoughts – freedom in a frame, so to speak.
Below are two cover letter templates for you to choose from. (Make sure that you have a recent version of Word installed on your computer).
3 Rules For Amplifying The Impact Of Your Cover Letter.
Now that you have familiarised yourself with cover letter writing basics and have downloaded your cover letter template, it’s time to (metaphorically) put pen to paper.
Here’s how to ensure that the words in your cover letter have the power to stir recruiters into action.
1. Communicate Your Value.
Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase Unique Selling Point (USP). Whether or not you are, in marketing yourself as a candidate this term refers to your unique commercial offering to prospective employers.
At Arielle Executive, we create this value proposition for our clients and weave it through all of their marketing tools – resume, LinkedIn profile, elevator pitch, and – you guessed it – cover letter.
We’ve already talked about using a personal story to stop a recruiter in their tracks and get their emotional interest. But sounding like yourself isn’t limited to this, or similar, techniques.
Rather, it stems from your USP (see above) and from your personality. The tone of your cover letter should echo the tone of your resume and LinkedIn profile. That said, it should be more personal while still maintaining a professional edge.
3. Seek Feedback.
If you’re actively job searching, you’ll need to write a customised cover letter for each application you submit.
Yes, it’s a lot of work. However, the good news is that you can get your own basic template established and make minor tweaks to it for each role as they come up. This means getting your personal template right.
I recommend sharing it with 2-3 people in your network to get their feedback. Ideally, choose one person who knows you well professionally, one person who knows you peripherally, and person who knows you well personally.
There’s nothing like fresh eyes to speed up, and dial in, your final draft.
Alright, now that you know how to make your cover letter your own, let’s talk about how it should look visually.
Quick Way To Supercharge Your Cover Letter.
Here’s a quick tip that will literally double the impact of your job application – keep both the design and format consistent with that of your resume.
This achieves a couple of objectives:
It helps you build and reinforce your personal brand.
It helps the recruiter with visual recognition of your application.
Don’t go too fancy or complex with your cover letter design or formatting, as it will distract the reader from the meat of your content.
See below for a side-by-side example of a branded set (resume and cover letter):
Here’s the best news. Remember the free cover letter templates that I gave you earlier? Well, I’ve created a matching set of resume templates which you can download here.
Do You Have More Questions?
By now, I’m trusting that most of your questions have been answered when it comes to writing a cover letter to accompany your resume for a specific job application.
But cutting through the candidate clutter is no easy feat. And unless you’re a professional writer, the task of creating a standout cover letter can feel overwhelming.
If that’s you, I’m here for you. If you have more questions about how to write a cover letter, feel free to ask me in the comments below.
Wishing you all the best in your upcoming job search, and your career.