Writing a cover letter is everyone’s least favourite part of the job application process. Admit it, you know it’s true! Cover letters require you to sell yourself as a potential employee, which isn’t always easy to do. Our culture has a habit of cutting down people who brag about their achievements. So, self-promotion isn’t a skill that comes naturally to many of us. Yet it’s a skill that’s necessary when writing a cover letter. At their core, all great cover letters need to communicate 3 core elements: your knowledge, your interest in the job and your compatibility. If you can communicate these 3 things in your cover letter, you’ll be a shoo-in to score an interview.
Knowledge is the most important of the three elements. After all, if you don’t have the skills and experience to do the job, the other two won’t matter much. Spend the most space communicating what you know, and how it will benefit the team you’re hoping to join. Just be careful not to rehash your resume. Your resume and cover letter are a package deal. There’s no reason to include the same information on both. Your cover letter needs to add something to the conversation. Provide context or add a storytelling element that isn’t present on your resume. It’s also a good idea to explain how your skills or experience are relevant to the job you’ve applied to. Check the job description, and be specific.
Explain what interested in you in the job. Was it the company? The type of work you’d be doing? The opportunity for growth? Whatever the case, explain what drew you to the job. Most companies want to hire people who want to be there. If you show genuine interest in the job, it’s a check in the positive column. Information about how you found the job doesn’t count. In fact, if you have a line about how you found the job, you can probably cut it, as it’s just taking up space and doesn’t really have anything to do with you. The one exception is if you were referred to the job by someone who works there. A little name dropping can be a good thing if the employee is well-known and respected. Also remember to toe the line between showing interest and pandering. Going overboard can backfire. It’s clear to most recruiters if you’re sincerely passionate about the job, or raving about how this is your dream job in an effort to get in their good books.
This one is definitely the toughest element to master. It requires you to read the room and know about the company you’re applying to. You may need to do some digging and figure out the company values and dynamic. The tone of your cover letter should shift to match that of the company you’re hoping to work for. If you’re applying to a low-key startup that’s has a very informal approach, you should match that tone and make your cover letter a little lighter. If you’re applying to a buttoned-up consulting firm that’s extremely formal and emphasizes professionalism, your tone will need to match. Conventional wisdom says that resumes and cover letters should be ‘professional’ documents that are impersonal, but times have changed. Recruiters and hiring managers are looking to get a sense of who you are and your personality in your cover letter, so they can determine if you would mesh with their team. Let your personality shine through.
When you combine these 3 elements, you have an easy recipe for cover letter success. There are many ways to mix these elements together, but if you manage to communicate these essential things, your cover letter will hit on all the notes that hiring managers look for.