How to write great cover letters
1. Purpose of a cover letter
Recruiters don't want to hire someone who just wants a job - they want to hire someone who has a strong interest in their role.
This is important to keep in mind when you're considering whether you should include a cover letter in your next job application.
Don't miss the opportunity to convey your interest and suitability by excluding a cover letter. You don't want to be rejected for your dream job, simply because you failed to include one.
Recruitment is a process, and sending your curriculum vitae (CV) and a cover letter is the first of many steps.
These documents together fulfil one sole mission - to place you on the list of candidates who make it through to the next stage.
Takeaway - never submit an application without a cover letter.
2. Generic or tailored?
Some applicants use a generic cover letter for all of their applications. Others make slight changes when applying for different roles, but it is still generic.
Including a generic cover letter can have a detrimental impact on how you are judged by the recruiter. It would almost be better to not include a cover letter at all.
Instead, you need to show that you are specifically applying for the job by:
Takeaway - you need to tailor your cover letter to every position you apply for.
You should address each key selection criteria from the job advertisement. If you do not have this experience / qualification then say so, as it will come out anyway.
It is perfectly okay to apply for jobs where you don’t meet all the selection criteria.
However, if you do apply for job vacancies where you don’t meet all the selection criteria, you will need to address why you are applying and what might compensate for your lack of experience / qualification.
Your cover letter should not be a copy of what is in your CV. Think of yourself as a sales person. Your CV is a brochure, while your cover letter is an effective tool for highlighting why you should be considered. It tells the recruiter why they should read your CV, and what they should look out for when doing so.
At this stage, your aim is simply to avoid exclusion. Typically, 80% of all applications get rejected at this stage. 10% end up in the “maybe” pile and only 10% make it to the next round. You want to be in the last 10%.
However, you shouldn't write a lot in your cover letter. Keep it short and straight-forward. The recruiter does not want to read a novel.
Takeaway - the purpose of a cover letter is to qualify you for a phone (screening) call.
Another reason why you should write a tailored cover letter is because it makes you consider whether the role is really for you. If you decide it is not, then you will not waste your time by applying.
Don’t just apply for any random jobs you may come across. Most recruiters these days use software that immediately shows all the jobs you have applied for. At 11 Recruitment, we have candidates that have applied for 30, 50, or even more of our roles. It does not look good. The recruiter may think, "if this is the number of applications they sent to just us, how many other jobs have they applied for?"
This could give the impression that you are not a strong applicant. It raises the question, "why are you still on the market after so many applications?" It puts doubt in the recruiter’s mind.
Lastly, try to be consistent with the type of jobs you are applying for. Recruiters can often see which jobs you have applied for in the past, so they will notice if you have a scattergun approach i.e. applying for everything.
For example, if a candidate applies for the following roles, it will imply that they just want a job, and don't care what type of role it is.
- Funeral Director
- Call Centre Agent
- Customer Service Officer
- Sales Representative
3. A separate document?
Many recruiters try to save time by going straight to your CV. If they see what they are looking for, then they will go back and read your cover letter. Not the other way around.
If they don’t find what they are looking for in your CV, they will reject your application before reading your cover letter and your efforts writing it will go to waste.
To ensure that your cover letter is read every time, you should include it as part of your CV. So when the recruiter goes to read the first page of your CV, they will instead read your cover letter.
Takeaway - make your cover letter the first page of your CV and mention that your CV is listed below.
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