When you present a gift to a loved one, you usually present it gift wrapped. Why? To make it more special and attractive. To show the extent of the thought you put into it. Exactly the same logic applies to presenting your resume: make it as attractive as possible and show how much thought you put in to the application.
Writing a really outstanding resume is not easy. It takes a lot of time, thought and effort to get right. The last thing you want to do is to waste it by not presenting it in the best possible light with an outstanding cover letter. A bad cover letter can do just that – waste all that effort by preventing your resume even getting looked at.
The job market is a very competitive place. Every role you apply for will have hundreds of other applicants and you need to be noticed, not them. Craft your cover letter intelligently and you will draw attention to your resume and hugely increase your chances.
Firstly, here are a few things you absolutely must not do:
- Use a generic letter for all your applications.
- Address the letter ‘To Whom it May Concern’
- Address the letter to the wrong person.
- Use poor spelling and grammar.
Cover letters are scanned quickly by people making hiring decisions. Errors like those above leap off the page and will probably get you straight into the “No” pile.
The key to a powerful cover letter is thought, research and preparation. Get the basics right:
- Address it to the right person, at the right company, with their correct job title.
- Title your letter with the job you are applying for and the date and location of the advertisement, if any.
- If the hirer’s name, job title and address are not given for you, find them yourself. It is not that hard - just a phone call or two - and it will make you stand out as someone who put the extra effort in.
- Recruiters often work on lots of positions at the same time, so if the application is via a recruiter, using a clear title will get your resume where it needs to be. If a job reference number is given, use that too.
Just the points above will make a huge difference to your 'hit rate'. I have seen countless truly awful cover letters with some or all of these errors and it is honestly difficult to look past them as a recruiter, even if you want to give people the benefit of the doubt. Getting just the basics right is a very good start.
More Advanced Techniques
To really make a difference, you need your letter to do two things. Make the reader think "Wow, this person looks good!" and turn the page to read your resume. What you want is attention - and it is not easy to get. You have a single sheet of paper to work with, so every word must be chosen carefully. The cover letters that really jumped out at me in my time in recruitment may have been short, but they clearly took hours to produce.
The essentials for this more advanced approach are to focus on the reader and their needs in hiring the right person. How can you make that easier for them? What is it about you that makes you the obvious choice? In many ways, it is exactly as you should approach your resume, but you have very little space in which to make an impact.
There is a lot more you can do to enhance your cover letter and really make it work for you, but it will take a good deal of time and effort. Crafted carefully, your letter can act as a signpost to your most relevant and persuasive qualifications for the job, as a pointer to direct interview attention and even as a time line and project management tool.
But you must get the basics right first.