Your cover letter / covering letter – should you have one? How important is it? Can it make an impact?
Ok, here are some answers and points of key concern – followed by an 11 point checklist to get your covering letter on to a great track.
Cover letter question 1 – Should you have one and how important is it?
Of course. Yes. Definitely. Here’s why: it tells the reader what to do with your CV/application. Naturally sometimes it’s more important than other times. But something that really irks me, personally, is when I get an e-mail with no explanation, just a CV. It just gets dumped. And it’s the same I am sure with most recruiters or HR or recruiting managers. They need to be told – “this is what this is about” or “this is why you need to look further”. One cannot expect them to ‘figure’ things out for themselves. They just won’t. And I can’t blame them.
So always send some sort of a cover letter – it’s your introduction and it leads the reader down the right track. It’s also an opportunity for you to make your initial big impact – by including 3 or 4 bulleted points regarding why you’re a great candidate, the benefits you’ll provide, your achievements which suggest that you’ll be of high value to the reader’s company … you get the picture?
Cover letter question 2 – Can it make an impact?
Sure it can – for good AND bad. You’ve got to get it right. It generally won’t be paid much attention, that’s a fact, but still, it is an opportunity to get your main, best, features in to catch a glance. Your first impression could be, “hey, this applicant looks professional, knows what we’re looking for, let’s see the CV” (exactly the result you’re looking for) OR you could get, “oh, please, I’m not going to read through this.”
So generally, writing a long cover letter is a waste of everyone’s time. Make it really concise. Use bulleted paragraphs to make your most important points. Make it half a page, if that, with no paragraph longer than 2 or 3 lines. But more about specific “do’s” and “do nots” in the checklist below.
Your Cover Letter Checklist
- The bottom line as with any aspect of a job-search is: “what does the prospective employer want?” and “what do I have that can solve his problem?”. And then, of course, to communicate this. So a covering letter is a SALES letter, written with the employers interest foremost in mind.
- Before you start writing it, THINK. What action do you want the reader to take at this point? What is it you want them to do with your letter? Why are you writing? Usually the next step you would want is a telephone conversation of some kind, which will lead to a meeting.You are going to get the reader to respond by clearly answering the question: “What value do you have to offer?” “How will the employer be better off with you than they are now?Keep that in mind when writing your cover letter.
- Think twice before using any adjectives or adverbs. “I am competent, reliable, committed, outstanding, motivated, dedicated.” Sure you are! Who isn’t? What’s far more believable is including an example of why you say you are effective, what great result did you get? Eg. – Sales Rep: “Achieved 120% of target for last 3 years.” or Accountant: “Implemented system that resulted in savings of R100 000 pa and cut staff requirement by 33%.”
- Keep paragraphs short. Preferably 3 lines or fewer. Even use a one sentence paragraph to emphasize a point.
- Use boldface and italics to draw attention to specific points. Use these sparingly though. They are intended to get attention when the reader is skimming through. Also the use of a bulleted summary instead of a long paragraph is a good idea.
- What you want to avoid is for the employer to say “here’s another one!” and just putting you with the rest of the pile of “me toos”. Get to the point quickly. In fact one of the best openers is to say something like “Here’s what I will bring to/can offer [Organization] as a [position].
- A good idea is to use a 2 column table. On the left side you put the job requirements (one per row). And on the right side you put your relevant/corresponding experience / qualification . This gives the employer an easy, immediate overview of your quality as an applicant – how you match their requirements.
- If applying for an advertised position always include in the subject line a very brief summary of the position advertised. If the employer/recruiter cannot immediately link your application to an advert/job specification you may well miss the boat. Don’t assume that the reader will read through your CV and logically figure out which ad you are responding to. All you will do is increase their level of irritation at having to go through a pile of CV’s. Not fair but that’s the way it is.
- No-one is going to interview you just because you use fancy paper/sexy photos/elaborate formats for your letter or CV. That’s superficial stuff. In most agencies your expensive folder just gets thrown out. Engaging and persuasive content combined with a professional appearance is, however, a powerful combination. And be prepared to e-mail or to deliver on a disk!
- Address the letter to a person by name. If you don’t know it pick up the phone and ask. Make sure you get the spelling right. Don’t guess gender. Be sure.
- Be brief. Be relevant. Sell!
- And here’s a bonus 12th tip – and it’s a good one. You know how adverts you see always have some sort of a headline? It’s meant to get your attention. Or a newspaper – each article has a headline – to capture your interest. Use the same strategy on your covering letter. After you write “Dear Ms Smith” include next a centred, bold, short headline. Something like “Qualified Accountant who gets the job done – on time, with no comebacks” or “Sales Representative who has achieved or exceeded target for 6 years running.”It’s bold. But different. Different. But it’ll help you stand out.
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