For almost every job, a cover letter is an essential part of the application. Effectively constructing your cover letter can open the door to the interview. As an experienced recruiter, former staffing agency owner, and career marketing consultant, I can attest to numerous examples of cover letters that fast track an application to the "No, thank you!" file.
Although I customize the structure, tone, and content of each letter to suit my resume client’s needs and overall objectives, I’ve put together a general overview for you should you need a basic ‘how to’ when drafting your own cover letter.
Too many letters are, quite honestly, as waste of a perfectly good piece of paper. They’re often long, boring, fail to communicate jobseeker value, and fail to address the needs of the role. When I was recruiting, I was often staggered by the number of cover letters that left me wondering “So, why are you applying for this role?”. That should NEVER happen. Yet it did, continuously and from job seekers at all levels across all industries.
What’s the point of having or using a cover letter?
Well, if the hiring company ask for one, it represents another opportunity to SELL yourself into the role. So, there are two reasons for having a cover letter 1) if the company asks for one, you give them what they want, and 2) you get another wonderful opportunity to differentiate yourself from the chasing pack of hounds looking to snaffle that role from under your nose.
Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? So why do 95% of cover letters fail to sell the job seeker into a role?
So, we know the purpose of the letter – SELL yourself into the job. Avoid the cookie cutter introductions and faux deference to the company that you were taught in college. I’ve seen so many of these things it’s comical – I immediately know you’re copying a template letter given to you by a college career advisor, and they’re generally uninspiring.
I remember one cover letter in particular sent in application to a gaming (gambling) company. The opening stanza followed the standard college career advisor template, and in this case the job seeker pledged to do all they could to support the company in their quest to “uphold their mission to ensure responsible gaming”. The job seeker was applying for an accounting role.
Clearly, the job seeker had gone to the company website, saw that blurb about responsible gaming and slapped it into the cover letter. That’s what these templates look like, isn’t it? There a space underneath the opening line for you to add in a little ditty like that! Please don’t.
The cover letter is a one-page document. Never, ever more than that. Don’t resist..I can already hear a small number of you trying to make a case for a 2-pager – DON’T DO IT. When I received 2-page cover letters, a little thought crept into my mind that this was borderline rude. I kid you not. Maybe that’s just me!
So, it’s a one-page document and real estate space is limited. There’s no room for waffle. No room for platitudes, or inane chatter copied and pasted from the target company’s mission statement.
The letter must be concise, highly-focused, high-impact, and leave the reader in no doubt that you have the skills and experience needed to this role. In addition, they should understand that you are able to ADD VALUE. If you’re super strategic about it, you can also seek to eliminate any potential objections to your application in there.
For the meantime though, here are a few pointers.
Appearance and Format
Help your cover letter to stand out by keeping it clean, simple, and professional. Above all, carefully proofread, so it is free of grammatical and spelling errors. Self-editing is not trustworthy, so enlist help from a friend or family member. Double-check the spelling of the company's name and person to whom you are addressing the letter.
Follow standard business formatting guidelines, as seen in this image. For a digital version, format your cover letter and resume as a PDF. For a hard copy, consider using unique paper stock and custom letterhead.
Tone and Structure
The tone should be positive, direct, and professional; it should also be free of quips and idioms. Moreover, write to a person, not an entire organization. Focus the letter on how you will add value to the company, not your skills and experience. Three to four paragraphs is an appropriate length.
First paragraph: Introduce yourself and discuss why you want the job. Briefly mention your most relevant experience and emphasize why the company or the job interests you and more importantly for the target audience, what you would be able to do for them. Be specific!
Avoid generalizations such as, "… because your company is a leader in XX industry…" or "…I want to work with a quality organization…"
Second paragraph: Next, discuss how your unique experience, skills, and attributes will add value to the company. Look for clues about what to highlight in the job posting. For example, if an employer asks for an outgoing personality, mention you enjoy working closely with clients, because of xyz reason. If the job requires specific technical skills, mention your certifications and summarize your experience with those skills.
Third paragraph: Depending on your style and the job, you might want to include a third paragraph or a short list of bullet points to highlight specific examples that substantiate key points in the second paragraph. Share specific examples that are not included on your resume or CV. Be prepared to discuss these examples in detail during an interview.
Conclusion: Graciously close by thanking the reader for his or her time. Always include when and how to contact you, and insert a statement such as "I look forward to speaking with you in person about this position."
I have been writing high impact resumes & cover letters for Calgary's top professionals for over a decade. If you're looking for resume services in Calgary, get in touch!