When you apply for a job, you’ll often be asked to send in a CV. Along with this CV you’ll send a cover letter explaining why you’re applying for this particular role. Even if you’re filling in an online application, you’ll usually have an opportunity to add further information. You’ll tweak your CV depending on the type of job you’re looking for but your cover letter will be unique for each application. This is your chance to show that you’ve not only got the qualifications and experience, but that you’re the type of person who’s perfect for the role.
Your cover letter answers the question, “Why am I applying for this job?” And it answers it by saying, “Because I am the best candidate.” You won’t say that in so many words, of course, but your cover letter isn’t to let the company know that this is your dream job. They don’t need to be told that they’re an amazing company to work for. They assume that if you’re applying, it’s because you want the job and you like the company. A cover letter shouldn’t be long; don’t waste words on flattery.
This is all about you. You might tell them that you’re determined to join their company, but not because they’re the market leader in their field; you’re going to join them because you have so many relevant skills to offer. Don’t tell them that this role is an ideal opportunity for you to develop your abilities, tell them that your abilities are an ideal opportunity to develop this role. Every single sentence in your cover letter should be based on the idea that you, and only you, are the best person for the job.
Your cover letter should use the same language as the person specification. If the employer is looking for people who are motivated and self-directed, then your cover letter will give examples of your motivation and self-direction. If the person specification demands people who are passionate, then show them that you’re passionate. If the job requires people who are methodical and orderly, don’t tell them that you’re a creative free spirit. That might be your best quality, the thing that everyone loves about you, but today you’re going to show them method and order.
Don’t send in your first draft. Get everything that you want written down and then, if possible, put it away for a while. Even if you’re applying at the last moment, go and do something else for an hour and then come back to your cover letter. Read it aloud or ask someone else to read it to you. Does it make sense? Does it flow, or does it jump back and forth from one idea to another? An employer who struggles to make sense of your first two sentences won’t read any further. Are all the sentences the same length, or is there some variety to make it interesting? Do you repeat the same words and phrases over and over and over? If you’re replacing repeated words with synonyms, don’t choose language that you’d never use in person – you’ll sound artificial and you risk conveying a meaning you hadn’t intended.
Finally, although your cover letter is all about making the employer realise how perfect you are, don’t tell lies. Don’t creatively exaggerate. Don’t say that you’ve got five years’ experience when you’ve only got three. Don’t say that you attended a management course if you watched it on YouTube. The idea of a cover letter is to get you an interview. If you spend the interview trying to avoid questions about your alleged accomplishments, or telling further lies to avoid getting caught out, an experienced interviewer will be able to tell. Stick to the truth, but make sure it’s presented in the best possible way.
Every other applicant for a job is sending in a cover letter. The function of your cover letter isn’t to add to your CV, but to make you stand out from everyone else. So tell the employer why you’re the right person for the job, give examples of how you have all the skills they’re looking for, and make sure it’s clear and easily readable. Don’t say anything you wouldn’t want to be asked about at interview, don’t talk about your bad qualities, and don’t imagine that writing something in ten minutes and sending it off immediately is going to be any help at all in getting you the job.