5 Simple Steps to Writing a Successful Cover Letter
A cover letter can be the first thing the prospective employer looks at when you apply for a job. While hiring managers tend to spend more time analysing the resume, you can’t just write your cover letter as a side thought. If you can’t capture the imagination of the employer with your cover letter, it’s unlikely they are going to even look at your resume.
So, how to write a successful cover letter? The process isn’t rocket science – indeed, you just need to take the following five simple steps to succeed.
STEP 1: RESEARCH THE JOB LISTING AND THE COMPANY
The most important thing is to tailor your cover letter to the job posting. You don’t want to use a generic letter that you just send to different employers and recruitment agencies – a unique and tailored cover letter is always the key to a successful job application.
Therefore, the first step of writing a cover letter is all about research. You need to examine the job posting and the organization to ensure you can focus on the right points in your cover letter. This will ensure your cover letter is on-point and answers the question “Why should we hire you?” better.
Start your research with the job listing. You want to create a list of qualities and characteristics the employer is looking for and a sense of the kind of responsibilities you would have as part of the job.
You can write a simple list of those qualities you find. For example, below is an example of a job posting with the important qualities and keywords highlighted, e.g.:
We’re looking for an account director with at least four years of marketing experience, and with the following skills and qualifications:
Notice how the above example doesn’t include the point about CRM software as something to highlight. This is because knowledge such as that – or proficiency in MS Word and so on – are better mentioned in the resume. As you’ll see later, the cover letter is better for sharing your skills rather than your work positions or education, for example.
You can then expand your investigation to the organization as a whole. You’re not just applying for a special job position but to be a representative of a specific organization. Therefore, it’s important you understand what the company is trying to achieve and what kind of values it holds.
The best place to find this information is the company website. You can often find the company mission statement and vision somewhere under the ‘About’ section. They might even talk about their business values on the website. Note any specific words that come up and the kind of values you see coming through the paragraphs and pages.
You could also check out any social media platforms the business has and see if you can get an idea of the values. Job profiles and employee profiles on LinkedIn might also help you get a clearer idea of what it might be like to work for the company and therefore, what kind of values the organization has.
STEP 2: CHOOSE YOUR BEST QUALITIES
Now that you have a clear understanding of what the employer is looking for, you can start thinking about how you match with them. You want to start by outlining your qualifications and characteristics. Focus on finding examples of the skills and qualifications the employer is looking for. In essence, look at yourself in the light of the job. How would you fit the role?
Your list might look rather extensive at this point. However, the cover letter is not meant to talk about everything. You want to focus on the most appealing skills and those that highlight your potential value to the organization. So, when you are selecting the best skills and qualities to talk about in your cover letter your focus should be on:
- Finding what experience, skills and accomplishments in your past best fit what the company is looking for.
- Exploring your skills, as you can always talk about work experience and positions more on your resume.
You can choose five qualities the employer is looking for. The five skills you think are the most important in succeeding in the job. You then want to match those five skills with your example – you want to create simple sentences about situations or things that highlight you having that special quality.
For example, if you look at the job posting above, you might pick communication skills and the experience of public speaking as one skill to talk about. You could then write an example of how you manifest this quality. Perhaps something like this:
|“I have spoken twice at the Official Graduation Ceremony at University XYZ and I’ve been a debate moderator for the Debating society for past three years.”|
|“I have studied drama in my free time for three years, which has given me great stage presence and tools to communicate effectively.”|
STEP 3: WRITE ABOUT YOUR VALUE TO THE COMPANY
Now you have an understanding of what the company is looking for and the unique skills and qualifications you have to match that. It’s time to start writing your cover letter with the focus staying on the value you offer to the company.
The key is to not just write about your skills but to present them in a valuable light to the organization. You’re not just boasting about your talent. You are explaining to the hiring manager why you’d be valuable person to the team because of these skills and past accomplishments.
You can start writing by thinking about what the company is looking for. Keep in mind the company mission and its values. While examining these, answer the questions with statements:
- How do I fit into the company mission and the values? What in my experience, skills and qualifications would make me a good fit?
- How can I help the company achieve that mission sooner? What in my experience, skills and qualifications would help achieve the mission?
- How do my experiences translate to the company’s (and my) successes in the future? What in your past shows you’d succeed in the future as well?
Here are a few examples sentences you could use as part of your cover letter:
|“In my current role as Marketing Manager, I’ve been able to increase the client base by 5%.”|
|“My previous experience in copywriting has resulted in industry awards and I believe I would be a valuable addition to your copywriting team.”|
|“As part of my studies, I’ve taken courses on industrial marketing which would help me in the position.”|
STEP 4: INCLUDE A CALL TO ACTION
By now, you will have a strong core to your cover letter. You’ve explained your most impressive skills and achievements and how they translate to success in the role in question. You would have shown how valuable you could be to the organization and how you can help them achieve their objectives sooner.
At the end of the letter, you need to take agency about the process. The problem in many cover letters is the lack of action – candidates often create a job application, send it and then wait for the reply. This is a wrong approach, as you want to stay active even when the decision is technically out of your hands. The more engaged you are, the more it shows how enthusiastic you are about the role.
Therefore, at the end of the letter, you need to include a call to action. This highlights your passion for the role and shows a willingness to go the extra mile in order to get a chance to prove you’re the right candidate for the role.
What would a good cover letter call to action look like? You definitely want to offer to either meet the person or to call them at a specific date to discuss your application and role. You don’t necessarily have to wait for them to reply to this call to action but you want to be courteous about it.
Therefore, propose to call them in two days and perhaps mention even the time of day you’d be making the call. This allows the person to prepare for the call or respond back to you and propose another time.
Here are a few examples of good call to actions to include in your cover letter:
|“I hope to speak with you and will call you…”|
|“I will be available to meet on…, and will call you prior to organise the meeting.”|
|“The opportunity to meet with you to discuss my application would be much appreciated. With this in mind, I will call you…”|
STEP 5: EDIT AND PROOFREAD YOUR COVER LETTER
Finally, you need to start editing and proofreading your cover letter. The above steps have provided you with a great cover letter to work with. But you can’t just write it down and send it – it’s important to refine your points and to ensure you’re not making obvious grammar mistakes.
First, start your editing by picking a good format. Here’s a great standard format you can use as you write the cover letter:
- Begin by mentioning the role and the organization. Include any referral worthy of mentioning. It can also be a good idea to find out how you found out about the role.
- Use the second paragraph to why your qualifications make you a good candidate for the role. Make sure you don’t list the same things you mention in the resume.
- In the third paragraph, dig deeper into why the company would benefit from having you on the team. What are the skills you have that would translate into success and which set you apart from the rest of the applicants?
- Finish with a call to action and thank for the opportunity. Show enthusiasm and mention your contact details.
Pay attention to the small, yet important, details when you are writing your cover letter. You want to ensure you are:
- Addressing the right person – You shouldn’t ever start a cover letter with ‘To Whom It May Concern’ but go ahead and find out who is the hiring manager who will read your letter. If it’s not available on the job posting, then check out the company website. You might even call the company’s HR department and ask whom your job application should be addressed to.
If you know someone within the company who could give you a reference, you definitely want to mention them in the cover letter.
- Including all of your (correct) contact details – Include as many contact details as possible. This means you should have your address, your phone number (including mobile if that’s the best way to reach you), and your e-mail. If you’re sending a digital version, a link to your LinkedIn profile can be a good addition. Furthermore, if you use professional social media accounts, then link to these as well.
- Using proper language – This means following a proper business etiquette. Include the right greeting and sign off your letter with a common statement, such as ‘Yours sincerely”. Don’t use slang words and pay attention to the grammar.
Talking of grammar, you need to spend enough time proofreading your cover letter at the end. Nothing gets your job application rejected quicker than spelling mistakes or improper use of language. It doesn’t give a good impression of you if you can’t write properly!
The below YouTube video by The Business Writing Channel has great tips for improving your proofreading. The tips are for general business writing but you can easily apply them to your job application too.
As an additional tip, have someone else check out your cover letter. This is not just to point out any mistakes you might have made but to also give you tips for improving the content.
You can ask them feedback in terms of how well you’ve aligned your skills with those required for the job and whether you’ve left out something they feel you should have mentioned.
THE ROAD TO A SUCCESSFUL COVER LETTER
The above five steps are not rocket science because creating the perfect job application is not impossible. You can perfect your cover letter and resume if you just do your research and take your time.
It all boils down to tailoring your cover letter. You have to ensure you understand what the employer is looking for and how your talent and skills can help the employer achieve its vision. You need to showcase your enthusiasm and value to the organization and remember you’re also sending a resume – your cover letter can’t and shouldn’t tell everything there is to your story.
So, start your journey to a successful cover letter by taking the above five steps. You will end up with a concise and great cover letter every time.
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