A cover letter is not just a required document, but a strategic one.
If you simply regurgitate content from your resume into paragraphs and call it a cover letter, save yourself the effort because it will not benefit you much.
A strategic cover letter supplements your resume by making up for shortfalls (see below), letting your personality and enthusiasm shine through, and directly addressing the needs of the hiring company.
Here are some tips for writing a cover letter that will give your application an edge over the rest.
1. Have a strong opening
Instead of opening with a predictable “I am writing in to apply for the position of marketing executive as posted on your website …”, inject some personality and conviction into your first line by saying something like, “With a track record in increasing market share and generating new revenue streams, I am interested in pitching myself for your role of Business Development Manager as advertised …”
2. Explain things that are hard to explain in a resume
Employment gaps, career switches and relocations are some of the “awkward” things that you can’t really fit into your resume. But a cover letter affords you an extremely suitable platform to justify these circumstances, clearing the air for the recruiter who’s scratching his head at gaping holes in your resume.
An example of a paragraph from a job-seeker looking to reenter the job market may look something like this:
“Having taken some time off to care for my daughter after I gave birth two years ago, I am now eager to bring my experience of 6 years in the finance and banking industry to your advertised position of financial director …”
Remember: with a pile of other job applications sitting on the table, you cannot afford to have any ambiguity in your documents; those that the recruiter cannot make sense of will more likely be put aside.
3. Have a well-structured flow
1st paragraph: Start on an interesting note (see above), stating upfront why the recruiter should read on. In fact, there’s no need to keep him in suspense—throw out your biggest, proudest job achievement to date, be it streamlining your company’s book-keeping system or playing a direct role in establishing a profitable third party partnership.
2nd paragraph: Give a snapshot of your professional and academic qualifications according to the requirements as stated in the job ad.
3rd paragraph: Make clear, strong connections between the job requirements and your strengths. Demonstrate that you know what the company is about by describing how you can meet its current needs/ vision/ goals; a good way to really “push yourself through” is a two-column format, with the job requirements on the left and your qualifications on the right. Done well, this strategic move can make up for any weakness you have emphasizing on that which you can offer.
4th paragraph: Reiterate your confidence in being a good fit for the role and the company.
But beyond stating why you are a good fit for the company, explain how the company is a good fit for your career aspirations. In her LinkedIn blog post titled “Top Ten Job Search Success Tips”, top recruiter Abby Kohut voices the question in the mind of the hiring executive, “Why do you want to work for my company? Why did you choose us over all the other companies in our industry? A cover letter is the perfect place to explain why you truly want the job.”
As much as possible, state a defined course of action on your part, for example, “I will contact you sometime next week to discuss about a possible meet-up or discussion …” This not only puts you in a positively decisive and proactive light but gives you some room to be a little “pushy”. What’s the harm, right?
Never write longer than one page. For that matter, keep it as short as possible. A white page that is crammed full of text in chunky paragraphs (a rule of thumb is to keep each paragraph to three or four lines) is a turn-off to time-starved recruiters.