I recently gave a talk to a group of postgraduate students in IT Sligo about how to find work in today’s job market. During the course of the afternoon they asked me several questions about different aspects of applying for jobs, but the question that drew the most interest from the group was about how to write a good cover letter. A good cover letter can greatly improve your chances of landing an interview. To do this you need to show what makes you the standout candidate for the job. The cover letter is usually the first thing an employer sees when they begin reviewing candidates, so it is vital that you state your case strongly and clearly. With that in mind, here are my top 10 tips for writing a great cover letter:
1. Start strongly
A strong opening paragraph is crucial. You must clearly state who you are, why you are writing, and why you are the right person for the job. You can then expand on this in subsequent paragraphs.
2. Highlight your most relevant skills
The purpose of a cover letter is to draw the attention of the employer to the most relevant points from your CV. It is about identifying the attributes that make you the right person for the job. They should be able to recognise immediately why you are such a strong candidate.
3. Relate your experience and skills to the job
Niall Murray, GM Collins McNicholasIt is important to demonstrate how your skills and experience will be applied to the new role in the organisation. Be specific about the ways in which you can add value to the company based on the skills you possess. Match your skills to the specific tasks that the job requires.
4. Emphasise personal characteristics
Do not limit yourself by referring solely to professional accomplishments. Personal achievements or characteristics can demonstrate how much of an asset you could be to the company. Recruiters are now taking a much more holistic view of candidates to see how well they will fit in with their company. This is particularly relevant for recent graduates that have limited professional experience.
5. Identify with the company and its culture
Employers are seeking people that not only have the right skills and experience but for individuals that they believe will fit in well within the organisation. If you can show that you understand and appreciate the culture of the company it will reassure employers. Research the company, mirror some of the language they use in your application, and link it to your own accomplishments. Try to be subtle. A heavy handed approach that closely copies the language of the employer will look forced and unnatural.
6. Provide examples of skills and accomplishments
Give examples of times when you had to use your skills. If you can back up what you say with evidence of past accomplishments this will make it more impressive. It is also useful to describe the results from your actions as well. Describe what you did, what skills this demonstrated, and the consequences from your actions.
7. Don’t rewrite your CV
Avoid doing this at all costs. The cover letter is meant to highlight the most relevant points from your CV and link them to the position being applied for. It is completely unnecessary to restate your entire CV and is a waste of the employer’s time. It will not be appreciated.
8. Be concise
Keep your cover letter short. Three brief paragraphs should be ample room to get your point across. Clarity and brevity are qualities that employers appreciate. They will not want to spend several minutes reading a long winded version of your life story.
9. Close strongly
Your closing paragraph should reiterate the most valuable asset you can bring to the company, thank them for considering you for the position, and inform them of how you will follow up on the application.
Minor mistakes in spelling, punctuation, or grammar, not to mention a poorly formatted cover letter, will make a negative impression. This may seem trivial but small mistakes such as these show a lack of attention to detail that employers find disconcerting; if you cannot get the small things right how can you be entrusted with more important tasks.
Niall Murray, General Manager
Collins McNicholas Recruitment & HR Services Group