If you find it hard to write cover letters, then you’re not alone. The same questions persist: How can you make yourself stand out? What should you – and should you not – include? Should you repeat yourself across the documents you send, or should every document contain unique information?
First, let’s get the real cover letter no-nos behind us!
- Don’t use the plug-and-play templates that are available online – we know when you’re using them!
- Don’t rehash the same cover letter you used for earlier applications – it will always look generic.
We know that it feels overwhelming to write a different cover letter for each job. But you have to – there are no shortcuts to it.
Helpfully, the best information you have to write an effective cover letter will come from the company you’re applying to. Everything you need will be right there in the job description.
But actually making the job description work for you takes some practice, so here are some methods to help you prepare.
1. Match their language
Start with a highlighter pen! If you’re reading online, copy and paste their job spec into Word and use the program’s digital highlighter. Read the description carefully, and more than once. Are they using any terms that you don’t understand? Highlight them and look them up. Are they using buzzwords? Highlight them and make a note to match your phrasing in your cover letter to their keywords. Recruiters and HR managers are busy people, and they will be on the hunt for what they know – so hand everything to them in the cover letter.
Many job descriptions will contain the mission statement of the company. Don’t discount this – it can also provide great material for your cover letter. Pay careful attention to what the company does and how it sees itself, and analyse the tone of voice – mimicry is a form of flattery. If you can literally speak their language, you’re halfway there.
2. Appraise yourself
Be realistic about what you can do. Sometimes you’ll read the description and discover you aren’t suitable for the role. If in doubt, go through your highlights. Realising you’re not the right fit can be difficult to accept if you’re really excited about the company. Find another way – if the company interests you, use the advertised role to begin a relationship with them.
Instead of applying to a job that doesn’t suit you, send the recruiter an email. Introduce yourself briefly, and then ask if they accept speculative applications. Mention that you saw the role advertised, which is why you’re getting in touch, and help them understand what you need by explaining precisely where you could see yourself in the company.
If, however, once you’ve read the description, you feel like you’re just the person for the job:
3. Stick to the ‘question’
Remember school essays where marks were given for how well you stayed on-topic? You need to apply that skill here! If the company has listed ‘desirables’ and ‘requirements’, make sure you discuss them in your cover letter. Addressing most of the requirements (70%) and at least some of the desirables (40%) is the fastest way to get your application to the top of the pile.
4. Aim for clarity
Job descriptions can be difficult to read. Companies are sometimes guilty of cutting-and-pasting templates, too! If you’re not clear about a desirable or requirement on the application and your question can’t be answered by a trip to Google, pick up the phone and ask the recruiter. It is always better to be clear about what they want than to make assumptions.
5. Shine a light on the gaps
If the role requires skills that you don’t have, say so. Some people may think differently about this attitude, but we feel there is merit in being upfront about the skills you don’t yet have but intend to develop. A willingness to learn will go a long way. You’ll come across as genuine and as someone who thinks carefully about their approach, rather than someone who is taking a scattergun approach to job hunting.
Sometimes the solutions for difficult things end up being right under our nose – we feel this way about job descriptions! What do you struggle to get right in your job applications, and how can we help you to improve? Connect with us on Instagram or LinkedIn, and let’s get talking!