Having spent over 20 years in the recruitment industry I have read literally thousands of cover letters. But I know that if you don’t write them all the time, it is hard to know where to start.
Here are my top tips for pulling together a compelling cover letter and some reality checks for you to keep in mind.
Top Tips for a compelling cover letter
Consider – “Do you really need to include a Cover Letter?”
Unless you are asked to submit a cover letter, many recruiters and potential employers are likely to flick right past your cover letter to read your resume. So at the outset, have a good think about whether you need to send a cover letter at all.
Of course, if you are specifically asked to submit a cover letter, you should definitely include one.
Break up your cover letter with some bullet points
It can be useful to create some bullet points in your cover letter to make it a document that is easily “scannable”. This will allow the reader to get a sense for how you meet the criteria for the role without having to read every word of the letter itself.
I often encourage those I work with to use these bullet points to address how they demonstrate the key skills and experience outlined in the role advertisement.
Providing specific examples of how your experience relates to each skill or attribute provides quantitative data which will help you stand out from other applicants.
To Whom It May Concern no longer cuts it
Dear Sir/Madam comes in a close second to To Whom it May Concern as an outdated way to address your cover letter. If you can source the name of the contact for the job advertisement, consider using their name.
If this information is not available, there is no hard and fast rule for how you address your letter but something like “Dear Talent Leader/Hiring Manager/Human Resources Consultant” or similar should suffice.
Make sure the “good stuff” is in your resume too
Don’t save all of your best information for your cover letter. Make sure the pertinent information about your career successes and highlights are in your resume too. This will help, especially if your cover letter doesn’t end up getting read at all!
Cover Letter Reality Checks
I rarely read a cover letter from top to bottom. With a huge pile of resumes in front of me, I am more likely to skim the content and at best read maybe half of what is on the page.
White space rules
If you are asked to create a cover letter of no more than 1 page, don’t use every last piece of white space on the page to cram in content. This can look untidy and honestly, a little overwhelming.
Cover letters with typos don’t get interviews
If you cannot spell check your cover letter, it does say something about your attention to detail and the level of importance you place on your role application.
Always spell check your cover letter and ideally get someone else to read through it to. When you have been working on a document for a while, you can miss some obvious mistakes that other people are more likely to pick up.
Applicant Tracking Systems don’t love cover letters made with graphics software
You can now readily access software to make your cover letter THE most attractive document in the world BUT ATS (Applicant Tracking System) software sometimes struggles to scan these documents effectively.
Create your cover letter in a WORD or PDF document for the greatest chance of ATS parsing success.
If you are in doubt about what the specific company uses that you are applying to, consider asking them which document version would work best for them.
Keen to learn more about creating a cover letter template you can use for each job application? Get in touch.