Writing a stand-out cover letter

Cover letters – the source of so much angst!

(1) What makes a good cover letter?

(2) How do I address the recipient?

(3) Who actually is the recipient?

(4) Does the addressee actually bother reading a cover letter at all?!

….the questions are endless

Let’s deal with what actually constitutes a good cover letter first.  Very much like the CV, it needs to be reviewed and amended for every new application, to reflect the core components of the actual job that you are applying for.

Review the job description and highlight the terms, words that are most frequently mentioned in the body of the job description.

Think about your own skills and experience to date and use those to relate in your cover letter how you can meet & exceed the demands of what is outlined in the job description.  Duplicate the phrases and terms used in the job description, where possible in your cover letter.  Again – think of the robot reader, the applications that don’t meet a human eye at first sift.  It really does matter in this scenario to have your matching keywords and phrases.

Avoid empty meaningless stock phrases such as “I am hard working, loyal, energetic” – that is just pure waffle and the recruiter’s eye will glaze over and perhaps move-on to the next candidate!

The cover letter needs to immediately draw the reader into WHY they should read on, why you might be a contender for the role in question.

Demonstrate that you have done your research on the company and the reader (if you are sending to a named person).  The reference can be something like a comment about their recent product launch, an accolade they may have won, their financial results etc.  Just something that shows you have taken the time, as you really really ARE interested in the company and the particular opportunity.

How do I address the recipient?

By name where possible, be as inventive as you can and even if the name isn’t given, find out the Hiring Manager, or the HR contact who will be the recipient.

Dear Sir OR Hi there! 

Tricky one – very much depends on the industry.  If it’s for a legal, or highly professional organisation – use Dear Sir if you really can’t find out who to address it to!  If it’s for academia  – find out whether it’s Doctor, Professor etc.

If it’s for a fresh progressive type of business, then a less informal greeting – Good morning/afternoon etc. NEVER “hey” – some people seem to think this is totally acceptable – it isn’t!

Who actually is the recipient?

See above – more often than not, it can be a robot!  Especially in the larger companies where you are applying through an automated application system.

Otherwise – address it to the person concerned as above.

Do people actually read cover letters?

I have to admit, after 19 years’ in recruitment, I cannot honestly say I always read them.  I am more likely to read them if I need to get some practical back-up, such as if a candidate has expressed their availability, or anything extraordinary about themselves which isn’t in the CV.  I do switch off if it’s a repetitive “I’m hard-working, loyal” etc. and goes on for more than four paragraphs.

Are they worth writing?

Most definitely, most recruiters will definitely feel short-changed if the candidate can’t be bothered to write something, which frames the context of their application at minimum.  Just make sure it’s short, succinct, stand-out and memorable, by the inclusion of some interesting observation or fact, that is wholly memorable for all the right reasons!