Cover Letters – fool’s gold or a golden opportunity?

As Frenchman Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr said over 150 years ago “the more things change, the more they stay the same”. This rings true when applying for a job. Technology continues to change the way recruiters attract, source and screen candidates, particularly over the last 5 years. However when we strip everything back the large majority of successful job applications begin the way they always have – with a resume and cover letter.

Caught up in the enthusiasm to falsely call out the death of resumes has been the humble cover letter. Rarely given as much consideration as the resume, cover letters seemed to have really slipped down the chain of relevancy to the point where many candidates do not include a cover letter with their job application. This was highlighted when I recently advertised a vacancy and only 50% of the applicants included a cover letter.

Research shows that recruiters on average only spend 6-7 seconds scanning a resume before deciding whether to call an applicant. It’s an amazingly small amount of time. Candidates really need to maximise every opportunity, and deciding not to include a cover letter in no way increases your chances. Why not take up an opportunity if it’s there?

Here are some tips on how to submit a really strong cover letter:

· Never submit the same cover letter twice. Every position, company and advertisement is different. Therefore your cover letter needs to adjust to address the differences. A generic cover letter is immediately obvious.

· Use different language to the way you write your resume, personalise it. Resumes are a statement of facts. Cover letters are more personal and allow you to provide a friendly introduction and sell yourself.

· Research the company and position, and include that information in your cover letter. Show that you have given thought and consideration to your application. Mention the company, position and person recruiting (avoid “Dear Sir/Madam”). Go deeper and give a specific paragraph to what you know about the company; any experiences you may have had with them or what you may have seen in the media lately.

· One page long. Four to five well-structured paragraphs should be enough. It’s an introduction, not an essay.

· Proof read it, multiple times. One spelling mistake or grammatical error will undo all of your good work. Read it out aloud to yourself and run it through aspell checker.

As a jobseeker you’ve got to take every opportunity you can to impress. Passing on an opportunity to submit a cover letter in no way increases your chances of getting a call to an interview. So embrace it and standout from the other applicants.

James Witcombe

The Candidate Coach

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