It used to be that your cover letter was all about you. But things have changed.
The modern cover letter should focus first and foremost on the company it’s directed to, career experts say. Gone are the days where you could spend a few paragraphs detailing your own accomplishments. Today, you also need to demonstrate a genuine interest in the company and prove you know how to help it.
“People need to focus their cover letters on the company they’re applying to, not on themselves,” says Dan Schawbel, author of best-selling book “Promote Yourself” and managing partner of consultancy Millennial Branding. “Show how you can make a difference for that company.”
That’s easier said than done, especially when you’re trying to distinguish yourself among dozens or hundreds of other applicants. Below, career experts weigh in on the new essential guidelines to writing a successful cover letter.
1. Keep your letter short enough for someone to read in 10 seconds.
Three paragraphs is the ideal length, says Vicki Salemi, a career expert and author of “Big Career in the Big City.” Use the first paragraph as an intro, the second for the meat, and the third to wrap up. The hiring manager giving a first read to your letter is probably going to spend 10 seconds or less on it, Salemi adds. They want to read something succinct.
2. Hook your reader’s interest in the first sentence.
“It is with great interest that I write to apply for the position of…” is a great first line if you want to lose your reader’s interest. It’s dreadfully boring. Assuming you applied to the job online, the hiring manager already knows what the position is and that you’re writing to apply. Instead, try a professional but bold statement that catches the reader’s eye. Salemi suggests opening with a pitch, such as: “Looking for a dynamic marketing guru? Look no further. Here I am.”
3. Pick two or three skills from the job description and show you have them.
Read the job description carefully and identify the top two or three qualities the company wants in a candidate, Salemi says. Then use your cover letter to demonstrate you have those skills, giving examples of when and how you’ve used them in the past. Show that you’re equipped to make a difference from day one.
4. Use numbers and statistics to back up your claims.
It’s good to say you’re experienced with social media. But it’s much, much better to say you led a successful social media campaign that generated 3.2 million followers and increased revenue by 3%. The goal, Schawbel says, is to present yourself as a proven results-getter and show that you can replicate your past successes at a new company.
4. Don’t just rehash your résumé in paragraph form.
The cover letter is designed to showcase your interest in the company and your best attributes for the position. That doesn’t mean it needs an itemized list of your every job and achievement. To be sure, if you won an exceptional award or executed a stunning project, then make sure to highlight it in the letter. You should also discuss previous work that relates specifically to skills and experiences the hiring manager is looking for. But as a general rule of thumb, if it doesn’t jump off the page, leave it out.
5. Address your cover letter directly to the hiring manager or recruiter.
Nothing says “I don’t care about your company” like an opening of “To Whom It May Concern.” That may have been OK before the advent of modern technology, but today it generally takes as little as a Google search or a phone call to figure out the name of the hiring manager. Addressing your letter to the correct person (and spelling their name correctly!) will automatically ingratiate you to the reader and show that you’ve spent some time researching the company and position.
6. Customise your tone for the company culture.
You might be applying to a Fortune 500 company, a startup, or something in the middle. No two companies are alike, not just in mission but also in culture. An important part of tailoring your cover letter to the company is striking the right tone, Schawbel says. If you know the place you’re applying to has a casual vibe, then your letter can reflect that with pithy sentences and fun anecdotes that show an easygoing side of your personality. On the other hand, if the company seems to have a formal culture, it’s probably best to use traditional phrases like “Dear Mr./Ms.” and straightforward prose.
7. Proofread carefully, and consider getting a second pair of eyes.
How you absolutely don’t want to be remembered is as the person that submitted the sloppy cover letter. So proof, proof, and proof again, or enlist a friend to look at your document with a fresh set of eyes. A typo, grammar mistake, misspelling, or other error can “leap off the page in a bad way,” Salemi says, and is the easiest way to let a hiring manager knock your application straight from their desk to the trash bin. Don’t give them the chance.
What are your most pressing workplace challenges or concerns? What questions do you have on how to get ahead in your career today? Email the Business Insider Careers team at [email protected], and we’ll find the answers.
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Cover Letters are an often overlooked aspect of the job application process. Too often, cover letters are a quickly-created addition to accompany a resume and fulfil a recruiter’s requirement for one.
A cover letter is your first opportunity to engage your prospective employer, and encourage them to review your resume. It enables you, in your own ‘voice’, to demonstrate the applicable qualities and experience that make you suitable for the job on offer.
Top End Consulting has compiled a list of tips to help you create the ultimate cover letter, that will help you get noticed by a potential employer and secure an interview.
1.Always send a cover letter with your resume
It is a common misconception that you do not need to send a cover letter with your resume unless specifically requested to do so. The truth is that your resume should always be accompanied by a cover letter, unless you are requested not to include one.
In an extremely competitive job market, failing to include a cover letter in your application can be a huge mistake. Consider your resume. It has most likely been written in short, succinct sentences, with the sole intention of demonstrating your skills and experiences relevant to the job on offer. A cover letter provides you with an opportunity to highlight relevant skills and experiences applicable to the role, and convey your enthusiasm for the job and passion for the industry.
2.Know your audience: Personalise your letter
Where possible, do not use generic greetings such as “Dear Employer” or “To Whom it May Concern” when addressing your cover letter to an employer. You should take the time to research the company to which you are applying – look on their website or make a call to determine the appropriate contact.
Where it is not possible to obtain a contact name, you should address the letter to the position of the contact, ie: Dear Recruitment Manager. It is important to never assume the gender of your recipient and address your letter as “Dear Sir” or “Dear Mister…”.
3.Hook them in
In the current competitive job market, it is likely that the hiring company will receive a large number of job applications for an advertised position. Consequently, your cover letter needs to ‘stand out’ from the others and grab the attention of the recruiter.
This does not mean printing your resume on scented, coloured or textured paper and having it delivered by courier. It means that you should avoid creating a generic ‘form’ cover letter that shows little research or effort.
Start your cover letter by demonstrating why you should be considered for the job. For example, don’t write “I am applying for the advertised position of…”, instead, start your letter by selling yourself, ie: “As an accomplished Marketing Manager, I have extensive experience with international marketing strategies…”. As with your resume, you want your cover letter to stand out for the right reasons.
4.Do not repeat your resume
Your cover letter should not be a regurgitation of your resume, and should be used to highlight your experience and accomplishments relevant to the position you are applying for. Your cover letter is an opportunity for you to expand on your qualifications and indicate how they can be of value to the hiring company.
Research the company and read the job advertisement to determine the key qualities they are looking for in an employee. Ensure that you address their requirements in your letter, by highlighting your transferrable skills and relevant accomplishments.
5.Use your connections
If you have heard about the job through a friend or networking connection, do not be afraid to mention this in your cover letter. If your connection is a current employee of the company, it puts pressure on the recruiter to keep that employee happy by considering you for the role. It also indicates that you have inside information on how the company operates, and its expectations.
6.Keep your letter short and neat
Ideally, a cover letter should be limited to one page, and be three to four paragraphs in length. Your cover letter should not be seen as an essay version of your resume. Your cover letter should be written in a concise, clear manner, with logical transitions between the paragraphs.
Ensure that your cover letter is pleasing to the eye. Use good quality paper and an easy to read font and font size. Your cover letter should look neat and professional.
7.Do not send the same cover letter to multiple companies
The entire purpose of a cover letter is to demonstrate why you are suitable to a specific job with a specific company. Hiring Managers and Recruitment Consultants are very adept at spotting mass mailed, generic cover letters, so you need to make sure you address the specific requirements of the job and the company.
8.Proofread your letter
Failing to check the grammar and spelling of your cover letter shows a lack of care that few employers are willing to overlook. It is essential that you proofread your cover letter for any spelling or grammatical errors, and then have another person double check it for you. You should ensure that you have spelt the company name and the name of the contact correctly, and have used appropriate capitalisation throughout the letter.
Whilst it may seem obvious, never use “text speak” in your cover letter, even if you are applying via email. For example, the following are excerpts from email applications received by Top End Consulting:
- looking 4 WRK
- wld like 2 arrange i/v 4 job. Pls ph me on mob.
- Have 3 yrs exp in hosp industry
Whilst time is often scarce, and communication using mobile devices is now commonplace, and English is a second language for many job seekers, there is still no excuse to use “text speak” in your job application. It appears lazy and unprofessional; hardly qualities recruiters are looking for.
9.Sign your letter
It is important that you remember to hand sign your cover letter above your name. This is proper business etiquette and displays professionalism. An exception to this exists if you are sending an email cover letter, as a signature is not necessary. However, you must ensure you write your name at the bottom of your email cover letter.
You should follow up on your application after the deadline for submissions has been reached. This is best done by sending a short, polite email to the recruiter inquiring if the application process has begun. Do not call or email the recruiter on a daily basis to get updates on the status of your application.
Recommended Cover Letter Outline
[Suburb, State, Postcode]
[Your email address]
[Suburb, State, Postcode]
Dear [Recipient name]
Re: Job title advertised (optional)
Paragraph 1: Indicate the position you are applying for and why you want for work for the hiring company. Remember to hook the recruiter in with a sales pitch about yourself.
Middle: Why should you be considered for the job? In one or two paragraphs, identify your skills and experience relevant to the position. Expand on accomplishments that can be found in your resume.
Paragraph 3: Thank the employer for their consideration of your application, and indicate how and when you will follow up.
[your handwritten signature]
[Your typed full name]