6-steps to the perfect cover letter:
Updated: Sep 30, 2020
– The Mindset:
Just as a badly written cover letter can cost you your dream job, a properly constructed one can pave the way to job interviews.
This write-up is designed to be delivered in two parts, both containing six (6) steps each:
1st: The mindset; prior to writing a cover letter
2nd: Writing the Cover Letter; Structure and content.
It is important that candidates do not just delve straight into writing cover letter rather, explore and understand the mindset they need to be in first and then, the next step will be developing the content and structure of the winning cover letter.
A. What is a cover letter?
Simply put, a cover letter is used to introduce and present one’s self as the worthy candidate to be hired for a job you are applying for. A cover letter helps a candidate present a case as the best candidate to be hired as it is not bound by the structural, format and content limitations of a CV. This is so as you can highlight specific and sometimes, detailed information on why your skills, experience, aspirations, achievements, academic records make you ‘the’ candidate matching for the employer’s job requirements. However, its content should complement the CV being sent for the job application by highlighting relevant skills and experience; therefore, you should always write your cover letter with the position you're applying for in mind.
A cover letter is meant to be sent alongside a CV when applying for a job. Employers generally use cover letters as:
A candidate screening factor or
A factor determining whether to review a CV or
As a factor to assess in combination with the CV – particularly for roles where expression or creative writing is key
Note: Some employers will actively request a cover letter. Where it is not requested, it is generally a good practice to provide one where and when you can.
B. Review your CV – do not regurgitate
Your CV is meant to briefly detail or list your qualifications, past achievements, experiences etc – relevant to a job you are applying for. It however, is not meant for you to explain ‘How’ your skills etc, apply to making you a success in the role. This is where the cover letter comes into play. So, try not to restate the content of your CV rather, succinctly point out the ‘How’ your talent, experience etc, detailed in your CV can be applied to the role. You can only do this successfully by reading and understanding the job description and or putting yourself in the position of the hiring manager and speaking to him/her through your cover letter. Remember, Quality and not Volume; Steer clear of any irrelevant information rather, highlight only value-based information relevant to the role.
C. Choose and focus on critical requirements that match your experience
There is a reason why most job adverts details essential and optional skills, experience and qualification required for a role. In the absence of quality candidates, focus is now honed in on candidates with the ‘Required’ skills. As such, it is essential that your cover letter at least, addresses the required skills/qualifications etc required for the role. If all the required requirements cannot be addressed for lack of space, ensure the critical ones are addressed that match your experience/qualification etc.
D. Match Your Experience to The Role
We advise you do not waste time and effort applying to random unresearched positions. However, even if you find yourself doing so, it is cogent that some time is spent reviewing and reflecting on where you have come from i.e. past jobs, work experiences, skills, areas of excellence, qualifications and what you are passionate about while considering what you really want to do next.
Applying for jobs similar to or a level up from your present or previous jobs e.g. Administrator to Head administrator, typically requires your existing skill set. So, ensure these skills are properly expressed in your cover letter. In this situation, it is easier to express oneself as the candidate to hire through the cover letter as compared with when making a lateral career move e.g. moving from administrator to HR coordinator. Here, the gap between skills required for the job and your existing skillset may be very obvious and as such, a stronger highlight of present skills in addition to an even stronger willingness, ability and speed of learning needs to be expressed in your cover letter in such a way to convince the hiring manager.
E. Use Relevant Key Words
Cover letters like CVs, are meant to be concise and ‘to the point’. As such, it is generally accepted that cover letters should be one page long and divided into four to five paragraphs. With such limited writing space, it is important to make sure words being used are necessary, contain job-related keywords and count towards the overall message you want to convey to whoever will review your job application.
The keywords most likely relevant to your cover letter can be picked up in the job description and your understanding of the job and what it takes to be successful in the role. Resist the temptation to copy and paste such words from the job description. It is advisable to research similar job adverts and collect a repertoire of key words relevant to the role. However, bear in mind that writing a load of jargon can easily be picked up especially if you have no knowledge or experience with those words or what they mean in relation to the role.
F. Cover Letter Writing: Summary and Key Notes:
When writing a cover letter, there is a big temptation to replicate terms in the CV. Don’t! This is an opportunity to tell a short compelling story, highlighting your past achievements, stating how relevant and applicable these achievements are to the role and hiring organisation. Use statistics where necessary to underscore the impact of past results on your current or previous organisations. Also, highlight your unique talents and experience you hope to bring to the role and organisation.
While stating the above, keep your mind on three key things:
1. Role details:
The key requirements for the role you are applying for – ensure the skills, experience and talent you are writing about are aligned with the requirements of the role you are applying for. Ensure to use key words.
2. CV details:
Review your CV; All skills, experience academics qualifications, past achievements, awards related and relevant to the role you are applying in for, particularly those flagged as ‘Essential’ for the role, need to be highlighted in the cover letter as part of the reason why you are fit for the job and the candidate to be hired.
3. Missed-off value add:
From your knowledge or research of the role, identify any skill, experience, qualification that may have been missed off in the job advert which may be importantly relevant to the role. If this is something you have, then your cover letter is an opportunity to call it out; mentioning that while not stated in the advert, these are the factors you can bring ‘to the table’, adding even more benefit to the role.
Now that you are informed on what writing a cover letter entails, watch out for the
6-steps to the perfect cover letter: Writing the Cover Letter.