There’s no right or wrong when it comes to writing cover letters and filling out job application forms, as each recruiting manager (and position) requires something different. Here are my top five tips for making the most out of your cover letter.
1: Start with the job description (see blog on CVs for basics)
Now is the time to mention items you could not get into your CV. If you lack experience specific to a part of the job spec (or you have little/no work experience in that sector/area) explain why you want to start/learn about that topic/department/sector.
2: Talk as if you are already doing the job
Avoid ‘I have XXX experience’ – your CV says that. Try ‘In this new role I would use my XXX experience when working on XXX’. This can be a useful tool if you are moving into a new area because it helps show you have transferrable skills and you already realize where they would add value.
3: Offer some ideas
If you write about what you would/could do in the job it shows you’re already thinking like you’re doing that particular job in that company (not just thinking about ANY job). Even if your idea is not exactly what the recruiter is looking for, it might get them curious enough to give you an interview to discuss further.
4: Talk about them a little, but avoid sycophancy
Make company/department/team references relevant to your reasons for choosing them and/or what you understand about the role and why it appeals to you.
5: Consider including something topical
This will demonstrate your engagement with the sector/company/department, but keep it relevant to your reasons for applying. For example, in the retail banking sector recent mis-selling scandals have impaired consumer trust, and you would like to contribute to that bank’s new era of retail banking.
And make sure you don’t forget:
- ‘Dear…’ – Put the person’s name if you know it (Ms/Mr/Doctor Smith), and ‘Sir/Madam’ if not.
- Avoid long sentences. Use paragraphs for each new point/section.
- Maximum two sides of A4.
- ‘Yours….’ – ‘Sincerely’ if writing to a named individual but ‘Faithfully’ if to ‘Sir/Madam’.
- Get someone else to read it. A parent, sibling, partner or friend can help you spot repetition, spelling or grammar mistakes (which is an obvious no-no) or unfinished sentences.