Trying to land that graduate job? Sending out that standard cover letter to anyone and everyone who’ll have it? Stop right there! The scattergun approach rarely works – think of those recruiters in their offices receiving CVs and cover letters – how do you make yours stand out from the rest, and transform your application into a career?
First of all, if the presentation of your cover letter isn’t up to scratch, it might not even be read. Don’t fall down at the first hurdle. Oh, and make sure you look at your CV too (useful blog posts can be found here and here). Make sure you have the obvious on your letter – the date, your name, address, phone number(s) and email address. You could make this into a ‘letterhead’ by centering at the top of the page, or use one of the more traditional layouts.
Ensure that the company information is as close to the top-left corner as possible. You should have the recipient’s (full) name, job title, the company name, and the full address of the company. The salutation should be placed a couple of lines down from that.
The main body of your letter should be three paragraphs, an introduction, middle and conclusion. Keep them brief and to the point. Make sure you use active (not passive) words and keep to the point – don’t waffle. Don’t use three words when one will do. The third paragraph is your concluding statement – what you want to leave them with. It should be brief and genuine, and leave them with something memorable. Below your closing statement you add in your closing and your first and last name.
You should aim to keep your cover letter to one side of A4. There are exceptions to this, for example when you are asked to state how you meet the criteria in the person specification, but for a general cover letter, this is enough.
Always address a cover letter to the exact person who will receive it – this might mean you have to do some research, but there are many ways to go about doing this. You could look on the company website, contact the HR department, or even try looking on LinkedIn.
If you can’t find the name of the person to send your letter to, that is okay, but you are more likely to have success if you reach the right person straight away. The most accepted way to address a cover letter nowadays is “Dear Hiring Manager.” Some people address their letters with “Dear Sir or Madam,” or “To whom it may concern.” Don’t do this! Letters with this salutation often get removed straight away due to the broadness of the salutation – and it actually makes you sound unconcerned.
Form your salutation in the simplest way – address your reader properly – it’s as easy as that.
In order to set yourself apart, you need a killer first sentence to grab the reader’s attention. Think about the hiring manager – they have to read loads and loads of these letters every day – a lot will be the same format, full of clichés and copy-pasted from the web. They are sick to death of reading the same old stuff. So you have to knock their socks off.
Open your letter with a true, simple, straightforward statement: “I have several years’ experience in the restaurant industry, and I hope you will consider me for the position of Kitchen Manager.” However you write it, be clear and concise.
This opening paragraph should be used to show the recruiting manager why you are a good match for the company. Talk about two or three skills and/or qualifications you have that really suit the position, but don’t just repeat what is contained in your CV! Your cover letter is meant to reveal the strengths within your skill set, so showcase your abilities accordingly.
The second paragraph of your letter is where you give some real-life examples to demonstrate your skills and qualifications mentioned in the first paragraph. The recruiting manager needs to fill a gap in the organisation – make sure you target that need!
Here is where your storytelling skills will come in handy. Outline a few specific activities you have performed in your career that shows you would thrive in the position. Write about scenarios in which you succeeded in overcoming some obstacles in a recent job. Each instance should show how you met the need that the company is looking for. If the position calls for troubleshooting skills and phone etiquette, then describe how you handled that difficult tech support call and turned the customer around. If the employer wants someone to fill a sales position, don’t be afraid to show exactly how many contracts you secured in your last job. These instances should come out of your CV – make them colourful, concise and effective.
The story should have new information about your skills and abilities, within the framework of your CV – DO NOT just copy-and-paste your CV into your cover letter.
The concluding paragraph should be the shortest of the three. Make sure you cover the following things in your closing paragraph: an invitation to look at your CV, your interest in an interview, and your thanks for the opportunity. Firstly you must direct the recruiting manager to look at your CV – if it is being sent digitally, you can say: “Please consider my attached CV for the position.” If you are sending a hard copy (physical) letter, then refer to the CV as “enclosed.”
Secondly, express your interest in attending an interview – you can say something as simple as “I look forward to speaking with you further.”
Thirdly, and most importantly, thank the recruiting manager for their time. If you show your gratitude in a genuine fashion, as well as your interest in the opportunity, they may be more likely to consider you for the position. Don’t just assume your abilities can speak for themselves: a little bit of kindness and deference can go a long way.
Your sign-off should be short and sweet, not long and saccharine. The two most acceptable valedictions: “Your sincerely,” and “Yours faithfully”.
Edit your cover letter. Read it, re-read it, and then give it to someone else to read. Spell-check will overlook many grammatical errors, so you must be diligent. Double check names and addresses, ensure every detail is correct.
An excellent cover letter requires you pay great attention to detail, and that you put yourself in the shoes of the company. It is important to showcase your talents and to entertain. Be empathetic, and imagine what you would want to read. Most of all, recognize that you are the best person for the position, and reveal your story – you’re bound to land that job with your killer cover letter!