You’ve got your eye on a job opening and you want it bad.
You know you’re the perfect person for it — you can feel it in your bones.
But in order to stand out amongst the hundreds and even thousands of competitive candidates and call dibs on your dream job, there’s something you need to do first: convince the hiring manager that not only do you want this role — they need you for this role.
Enter your resume and cover letter.
Both of these documents share the common purpose of proving you have what it takes to meet the requirements of the job you’re applying for, however there’s a clear distinction between how each should be structured.
That’s why we’ve put together a two-part series on how to effectively pull together these two ‘personal marketing tools’ and ensure your name is bumped up onto the interview shortlist.
Today, we’re taking you through the first step in putting together a job application that can’t be ignored: writing a killer cover letter.
SO WHAT IS A COVER LETTER?
Your cover letter is your first chance to make a good impression and leave the hiring manager wanting to know more. It’s a highlight reel of all the glistening career assets that make you the right person for the job.
Where your resume can be a standardised, cookie-cutter document that lists the nitty gritty of your entire employment and education history, your cover letter is a personalised, targeted communication that reveals the strengths within your overall skill set that apply to this specific role. Your resume may not change from application to application, but your cover letter should.
It conveys the essence of you, your passion and know-how and amplifies your credentials.
It’s an elevator speech, but on paper. A punchy advertisement that screams, “I know what it is you need and this is how I can help you.”
Crucially, your cover letter could very well be the difference between the hiring manager turning the page to your resume —and ultimately — scoring you a job interview.
DO YOU REALLY NEED ONE?
Oh, you betcha.
Introducing yourself in a few hundred glowing words and amplifying the very skills contained in your resume that align with the selection criteria for the role is a crucial step in your job campaign.
Do not allow your resume to land, unaccompanied, amidst the sea of applications on a decision-maker’s desk.
This is your opportunity to do the hard work for the hiring manager and tell them why they need you. All it takes is a little extra effort.
BEFORE YOU START
Before you settle in at the computer to flesh out your cover letter, take a quiet moment to consider the following gems and do a little brainstorming. This exercise may just be the difference between a cover letter that does the job, and a cover letter that gets you the job.
- There’s no reason why you can’t begin to manifest the role before you even put pen to paper! Visualise yourself in the role and how it will feel. Put yourself in a positive mindset and believe that your application will be successful!
- Apply the same attitude to your cover letter that the brilliant Rachel MacDonald, http://inspacesbetween.com/blogging-business/about-me-page/ creator of Bright Eyed and Blog-Hearted, http://inspacesbetween.com/bright-eyed-and-blog-hearted/ urges bloggers to inject into their About Me page:
“The truth is, your About page is actually more about your reader than it is about you. Your ultimate aim is to answer that all-important question that every reader is asking themselves as they browse through your site (whether they realise it or not): What’s in it for me?”
So, make your cover letter — your professional ‘About Me’ page — all about the employer.
What’s in it for them?
How can you solve their problem?
Why should they care?
- It can be damn hard to sell yourself — no matter how badly you want the job or believe you’re the right person for it. Peggy Klaus, the author of Brag!: The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn Without Blowing It, says the notion of self-promotion is excruciatingly difficult for many professionals to embrace, even if they know it is critical for their own survival. “So ingrained are the myths about self-promotion, so repelled are we by obnoxious braggers, many people simply avoid talking about themselves,” she says.
But when it comes to your job application — and crucially, your cover letter — know this: in a competitive employment market, you need to be prepared to blow your own trumpet (unabashedly, but with authenticity). Don’t sell yourself short. Celebrate your achievements — don’t diminish your own brilliance.
- Do your research. Decide whether you meet the role requirements and learn the selection criteria inside out. Find out the name of the hiring manager so you can address them personally. Learn about the business and the industry.
- Put yourself in the shoes of the hiring manager. It’s their job to read what could be hundreds or even thousands of cover letters and resumes — so there’s a good chance they’re already bored, disillusioned or dubious. Dazzle them.
How do you want the hiring manager to feel as they read your cover letter?
- You need to connect to, and then target, the needs of the employer — so start workshopping your Unique Selling Proposition:
What does the employer need?
What do they expect of you?
What do you have to offer them?
What are the skills, qualifications, experience or talents you possess that would make you a valuable addition to the team?
What might make you different?
As with many professional documents, the correct length, style or structure of a cover letter is debatable. In fact, there are thousands of templates available with a simple Google search.
Though there might be no right or wrong way, there are still a few essential elements you should always include to ensure a well-structured and impressive cover letter. Here, we’re referencing the cover letter framework in a useful and detailed guide from Monash University.
Your contact details
Offer them every opportunity possible to contact you for an interview! Email, phone number, home address — give it to ‘em!
Employer’s contact details
Do your research to ensure your cover letter lands on the right desk.
Employer/hiring manager’s name
Where possible, address your letter to an actual named person.
Purpose of your letter and why you want the job
Refer to the job title, your intentions and suitability for the role — straight up. Be clear on why you want to work for that particular company. Don’t leave them guessing right to the end. Show them you’ve done your research.
“My solid sales background and more than 10 years’ experience in financial software for Government make me an ideal candidate for the Sales Manager position you recently advertised. I have recently relocated to Melbourne and hope to continue my successful sales career with a global enterprise software company like ABC Technology.”
Your skills and experience that are relevant to the job
This is where you acknowledge the employer’s needs and how you can meet them.
Drawing on the real nuggets of gold from your resume, break it down to specialist skills (relevant qualifications, skills and achievements) and general skills (such as communication, interpersonal, problem solving, teamwork skills).
Give examples to show you can add value and if you have relevant professional experience, briefly outline it. Describe career highlights and specific accomplishments from past jobs. Can you think of a scenario where you’ve overcome an obstacle in a professional manner? Ensure that every instance you include shows how you have met a need the employer is looking for.
“My professional experience has recently been honed in a role in which I successfully led my team to exceed its targets. The tools I developed from this experience apply directly to the attributes a Director of Marketing needs in your organisation: strong leadership, team building and organisation skills.
“In my previous role as Marketing Manager at ABC Products, I implemented strategic marketing plans to successfully strengthen brand value among target customers and stakeholders. This contributed to a multi-million increase in annual revenue.”
This is where you offer an invitation for the hiring manager to examine your resume and show your interest in an interview.
Above all, show gratitude for the opportunity to apply for the role.
“I thank you for considering me for this role and look forward to the opportunity to further discuss my application in an interview.”
While not mandatory, it can also be acceptable to mention here that you are available immediately, or that your salary is negotiable.
Your cover letter is your first opportunity to demonstrate your written communication skills — a skill that’s a standard requirement for almost any job.
Consider the following tips for when it comes time to touch-up your cover letter:
- When it comes to style and presentation, the most important thing to remember is keep it simple and high level. Be succinct, but engaging. Your resume, which follows the cover letter, is the opportunity to delve further into the exhaustive details of your career portfolio.
- Tone: always professional. Think about it — you wouldn’t slump in your seat, mumble, use bad language or dress casually in an interview, so mirror your cover letter in the same manner. According to Monash http://www.monash.edu.au/students/career-connect/apply-for-a-job/cover-letters.html, plain business English void of abbreviations, jargon and slang is key.
- Perfect grammar and spelling are a non-negotiable. Do a spell-check — and then do it again.
- Your salution and sign off are just as important as the body of your cover letter. Start with a ‘Dear (Hiring Manager’s Name)’ and finish with a ‘Yours Sincerely, (Your Name)’.
- When it comes to creative roles, such as graphic design or copywriting, the boundaries of basic language and presentation might be able to stretch. The cover letter may then need to display your creativity or imagination, along with your understanding of what the role entails.
- Use a clear, readable font on a white A4 page, without distracting colours, borders and images. Again, creatives who need to show some visual flair may be exempt from this rule.
Would you like some extra help with writing your Resume, preparing for an interview or negotiating a new role? Connect with our friends at Ama La Vida who can help you navigate this process like a Pro!
Articles written by our internal Daily Guru writers, who are certified & qualified growth & development professionals.