You have finally found the job of your dreams, the advertisement for it is right there before your eyes. You stare at your screen, paralyzed. Thinking, how to start. Why should they hire me? How will I get past all the other candidates? You just don’t know how to stand out. Here’s the good news. You do not have in invent the wheel. A good cover letter will create an advantage for you, and it is not that difficult to write one.
This post will show you how.
How to write a cover letter like a pro, even if you are applying for your first job (a step-by-step guide).
Before you start writing
Why do you need a cover letter?
All applications get screened and sorted. So your application needs to stand out from the start. Both your cover letter and your resume will be skimmed, alongside many other, similar documents. And yet, the cover letter will give you an advantage.
The cover letter is a great opportunity to awaken the recruiters’ interest and catch their eye. You want to communicate with the recruiter and give him or her a glimpse into your character and work ethic. You want to write the letter as if you are solving their problem. It is a great opportunity to engage with them and show them you are a person who is easy to get along with. Make them want to get to know you and hire you. A good cover letter is like a shout-out to the recruiter, calling their attention to your positive and professional attitude.
Overtake the lazybones with a good first impression
The simple truth is that too many job seekers out there, simply do not take the trouble to write a cover letter. So by submitting one, you already have an edge. A cover letter helps recruiters conduct the first screening more efficiently, as they need to read only a short document for this first stage. So you are helping them (and this assistance is appreciated). Many recruiters will not look at a resume without a cover letter.
A cover letter is a great opportunity to further elaborate on the information in your resume. You can use it to highlight a special achievement or a relevant project. Or to clarify gaps in your resume. If you have some contact in the company, or you have studied with a famous professor in your field, this is your opportunity to do some name-dropping as well.
Furthermore, writing a cover letter demonstrates you are serious about the position. Recruiters will tend to evaluate you as a professional. There is nothing like a good first impression, and that is what a cover letter can be for your application process.
Is a cover letter the same everywhere?
We all know there are cultural differences in the world, and these will reflect also on the local employment market. Even so, there are some common attributes that a cover letter must always entail, regardless of where you are searching for work.
A cover letter must always include some background information about the candidates, including their experience and expertise. Recruiters also what to know their character and understand why they are applying for the position and why they want to join the company.
The internet is making the world smaller and applying in English is no longer so outlandish. So writing a short cover letter in English can go a long way to getting you the job of your dreams.
Do your research
You want to make recruiters take you seriously. To do so, you need to know about the company and the position to which you apply. By demonstrating this knowledge in your cover letter, you present a professional front. This is why you need to do your research. You need to know what the company stands for (perhaps even quote its vision and mission). You need to know what the important requirements of the position to which you apply are.
Some companies use software for the very first screening. Key phrases from the position advertisement will be searched for by the algorithm. Make sure you create a list of the important keywords in the advert before you start writing your cover letter. Then use them verbatim in it.
But content is not everything. The layout of your cover letter can also help you stand out.
Tips that allow you to leave your competition in the dust
Remember the letter is skimmed first and read later if the first scan has raised interest. This is why you need to make sure your letter stands out from the crowd. This is where a good layout and some color come into play.
MS word offers simple templates with a colored box at the margin. This can add a bit of pizazz to your letter. But be careful not to overdo it.
Make sure there is a clear location for your contact details and those of the person you are writing to.
It is best if you know the name of the exact person you must write to, and use a personalized salutation.
- “Dear Mr. Mustermann”
is much better than
- “Dear recruiter”.
A subject line with your name that mentions the position you are applying for is also very important. People who skim the letter will know immediately what it is about and pass it on to the correct recruiter.
Make sure to use a few short paragraphs and place a space line between them. If you use a few bullets in the middle of you text – this will also stand out and draw the skimming eye.
A cover letter (just like any letter) has three parts:
- An introduction
- A main part
- A closing
See how the bullets above stand out? In the next part of this post, the three parts are reviewed in detail.
Writing your cover letter
Starting with your best foot forward
The introduction is the first thing the recruiter will read. Use the opening to establish rapport with your reader from the start. This is your chance to create interest with a personal detail or story that is relevant to your work experience and the position or to highlight a relevant skill or important values.
Describe something related to your work experience or your character – and then link it to the position or company. By creating this connection you demonstrate that you know exactly what the position is about and what lies at the heart of things. Write the opening paragraph in a way that presents you as a perfect fit for the position.
A good template for the opening sentence that you can use is:
- As [description of your character or special expertise] I know how important it is to [relevant insight into a requirement for the position or a topic the company stands for]
Example: (From an application for the position of a boy scout instructor)
- As the eldest of 4 children, I know how important it is to instill good habits and values from the start.
Example: (From an application for the position of a copywriter)
- With 5 years of marketing experience, I know how important it is to tell your audience a good story.
Having started with a bang, you have got the recruiters attention. They want to learn more, and in the main part of your letter, you have the chance to elaborate and grant this wish.
The heart of your letter
The main part of your letter contains 1-3 paragraphs with elaborated information about who you are and what you can do. This is where you will elaborate not only about your hard skills and work experience, but also about your soft skills. This part gives your reader a window into your personality.
Use this part to review the main stages of your career, but do not repeat your resume. Highlight your achievements and work experience from a different angle. Remember to show how your accomplishments and responsibilities correspond to the requirements of the advert. This is where you use the list of keywords from the advert that you prepared before starting to write. Show recruiters that you are exactly what they need – a solution to the recruitment problem at hand.
Going over the requirements for the job and writing your cover letter to match also serves as a self-validation process. When you complete your cover letter, you will be assured that you really want to apply. Not only are you a good fit for the company and position, but they are also a good fit for you.
People with work experience will probably find this section easier to complete. But they have the disadvantage of falling back on their resume and repeating dry facts. You need to remember this is your opportunity to elaborate BEYOND the resume. Tell the story behind your career.
When you are a young candidate, with little or no experience, this part will include your hobbies and interests, personal strengths (soft skills such as communication, creativity, and collaboration), and perhaps some schooling achievements. When writing about your interests, make sure you mention hobbies that are relevant to the position. A statement about soft skills is not enough, you need to prove you have the skills by demonstrating your abilities.
Here is an example:
- “When I play soccer, I constantly communicate with team members, as we all work together towards scoring a goal.”
You have to admit it is much more interesting than reading that
- “I am a team player with good communication skills.”
You can also use your interests and achievements to stress a point about your soft skills.
- “I sketch and draw every chance I get. The margins of my copybooks are full of my doodles.”
- “I won the annual art contest at my school”
Again, this sure is more memorable than
- “I am a creative person and I like to paint”.
The icing on your cake
Once you have finished the main part, you need to provide the recruiter with a last boost that ensures you will be contacted. This is what the closing is for. You started with a bang and need to close strong.
Top it all off with 1 or 2 sentences that show your motivation. Explain why you think you can contribute to the new workplace and why you want to join the company. This is one more opportunity to show that you have done your research and know what can be expected from you if you get hired. Do not be shy. Be proud of who you are and show them why you are needed.
Show enthusiasm, but try to avoid generic and empty statements, such as
- “I will make a great addition to your company and I am excited at the possibility to join your team.”
This is also the part in which you refer to the next steps. You want to be contacted. Give the recruiter a hint of what you want them to do. Use phrases such as
- I am always happy to answer any questions you may have.
- Looking forward to hearing from you.
- I am happy to present recommendations upon demand.
After writing your letter
The small things you do not want to forget
- Dot your i’s and cross your t’s: After writing your letter, check for spelling and grammar. Do not forget to review the organization and layout of the text before you sign it and send it off.
- Check your style: Did you start and end in the same style? Are you using a more formal or more direct tone of voice? Is the tone of voice you selected a good match for the position you are applying for?
- KISS – Keep is short and simple: A cover letter should not be longer than one page. The recommended number of words is 350-400. After writing it, review it for repetitions. Erase unnecessary information (repetitions of your resume or points that are not truly important).
- Remember – 2:3:2: If you can, keep your introduction and closing to 2 sentences each and your main part to 3 sentences.
- Sleep over it: Especially if this is the first time you are writing a cover letter, take the time to sleep over it. Reviewing it the next day with fresh eyes may well be worth it, as you detect silly mistakes or discover you missed an important point.
- Do not be afraid to be you: Your cover letter is a great opportunity for you to present the person behind the resume. A letter written with flair will ensure recruiters will remember you. So do not be afraid to be yourself, within the boundaries of professionalism.
- Follow up: if you can, after sending your application, call or write an email to follow up and see if it was received. This shows an extra effort to ensure you data has reached the right person, and demonstrates how important the position is to you.
Tips for re-writing a good cover letter quickly
Repurpose: Much of the content you have written in your first cover letter will be relevant for reuse in other applications for similar positions. So the core is important.
Customize: Even with your main part more or less intact, you still need to customize it to match the specific adverts, with relevant key phrases, copied verbatim from the advert. Your opening connection to a company will change with each application, as will your closing motivation to join a different company.
Use templates: There are many templates for cover letters available on the internet. Searching for templates according to the field in which you are applying is probably a good bet on getting some relevant tips as to what recruiters in the specific field are looking for, and what is important to highlight in your cover letter.
A good cover letter takes your application a long way
The cover letter is a necessary but small step to take toward your success. It is an important opportunity to introduce yourself and engage with the recruiter that you simply cannot afford to miss.
The effort is not too high and the learning curve will ensure it reduces over time. Keep the core of your letter for reuse, so the work you have already invested in it is not lost. Remember that it gets easier every time you do it again.
The effort will always be worth it. Just think! You could be hired for the job of your dreams. And perhaps one day, you will be sitting in the hiring chair.