If, as a job seeker, you have ever sent out a cover letter which says nothing more than, “Dear Sir, Please find enclosed my resume” or, worse still, sent out a resume without a cover letter, then you could quite rightly be accused of making one of the very worst job search blunders in the book. Why? Because for several reasons cover letters could be considered to be the single most important document in your job search tool-kit.
The first thing to understand about how to write a cover letter for a job, is its basic purpose, which, in a nutshell, is to get your resume read, and if you thought that getting your resume read was a given, then you would be very much mistaken. Recruiters often receive hundreds, if not thousands of applications for their advertised vacancies and many people are shocked to learn that each of these typically only receives a few seconds of the reader’s attention during the first sift. The first document that they look at isn’t your resume but your cover letter, and if the latter doesn’t instantly hit the mark, then your entire application risks being consigned to the trash can and all the hard work that you have put into your resume will have been in vain. Clearly then, a cover letter which says nothing more than “Please find enclosed my resume” just isn’t going to cut it, but what can you do to really make yours grab the recruiter by the shirt collar and convince him that your resume is worth reading?
The first paragraph of a cover letter needs to contain certain essential information, namely which job you are applying for and how you learned about the vacancy. Remember that employers often advertise numerous vacancies simultaneously and if they can’t see at a glance which one you are interested in, guess where your application is going to end up? Sharing how you learned of the vacancy, meanwhile, helps employers to ascertain which forms of advertising are most effective and, if you have been referred for the job by someone who is known to and respected by the employer, mentioning this will automatically give you a head start.
The first paragraph
Your first paragraph, however, isn’t just an opportunity to provide essential information. It can also be used to really make the reader sit up and take notice from the get-go and a great way to achieve this is to begin with an observation which flatters the company that you are applying to and demonstrates that you have done your research. If the organization recently won a new contract or an award, for example, you could compliment the achievement, something which will instantly give the reader a nice warm, fuzzy feeling and encourage him or her to read on. Another possibility is to start with a catchy question or a snippet about yourself, which will be a refreshing/interesting change for the employer.
Moving on to the body of your cover letter, here you need to make a direct link between the employer’s needs and the most significant and relevant skills, abilities and achievements that you have to offer. Rather than just telling the reader how great you are, you need to show that you properly understand the recruiter’s pain points and priorities and what the job entails, as well as how your past experience and skills can address the employer’s issues and concerns. In addition, you should hint at all the other wonderful things that you have to offer and that the employer can read about in your resume. When talking about your most significant and relevant achievements, try to use quantitative information such as the exact percentage by which you increased sales or the precise number of man hours that you saved your previous employer and, where possible, demonstrate your ability to either make or save the recruiter money.
The closing paragraph
The closing paragraph of your cover letter needs to do two things. First of all it needs to thank the reader for taking the time to consider your application, and secondly it needs to call the recruiter to action. You can do the latter quite simply by advising the reader how you can be contacted or when you are available for interviews.
Far from being a document which merely introduces your resume, your cover letter should literally have the recruiter reaching for the telephone before he or she has even got as far as reading your resume. Do remember to keep the letter concise though, otherwise employers might not be inclined to wade through it. You should be able to fit the opening and closing paragraphs into one or two sentences apiece and the body into four or five, so that the whole thing doesn’t exceed a single page.