If you don’t get the cover letter right, chances are no one will read your fabulous resume.
Cover letters are a disputed issues among hirers. Some reckon they are a waste of time and go straight to the resume. But most work the other way round and read the cover letter before deciding whether to look at the resume.
Nicholas Vayenas, Director and Managing Consultant of human resource company Liquid HR, estimates 70% of recruitment agents and hiring managers want to see a cover letter, and that 70% will certainly not consider people that haven’t taken the time and effort to write one,’ he said ‘A re-used cover letter is so easy to pick, especially as the readers see hundreds every day’.
‘A tailored cover letter demonstrates motivation and interest in the company, resulting in the reader giving your application a much closer look.’ So in order to get the job, you need to do the work. Get to know the company that you’re pitching to – their goals, manifesto, and work culture – and clearly outline your motivation to be a part of that.
‘This can’t simply be a copy-and-paste job from the About Us section of their website,’ Allen said. ‘It requires research and self-reflection on your motivations. If your motivation is just to get a job, think harder!’
It’s important to also consider the company’s reasons for advertising the position. Focus on how you can meet their needs, as opposed to how they can give you a job, and let them know what you will bring to the position. For example, if applying to write for a publication, pitch some story ideas; show that you have the initiative to hit the ground running.
‘A good cover letter will focus on how you want to contribute to the organisation’s ongoing success, and not on what you can get out of the job,’ Allen said. ‘A company advertises a position because they have a need – focus on showing them how you will meet that need.’
In creative industries, that need often includes flair and imagination, so when applying for work in these fields don’t be afraid to try something bold. While it’s up to you to draw the line between the naff and the necessary, this can be a great way to prove your skills (as opposed to simply stating them) and to stand out from the crowd. Vayenas says that while his rule of thumb is to avoid the gimmicky, he suggests that there are some professions in which this does not apply.
‘In creative professions such as marketing, journalism and graphic design, there’s almost an expectation that there is some kind of razzle dazzle to the cover letter,’ he said. ‘But this should not get in the way of identifying how you meet the role requirements.’
Addressing the role’s selection criteria is your chance to prove evidentially that you’ve got the necessary skills to pay the bills. Avoid terms such as ‘I feel’ or ‘I think’ when addressing your capabilities. Instead, back up everything you say with examples of previous experience – experience that the employer can then find in your CV. This doesn’t mean writing a four-page epic outlining all your skills and previous job descriptions; recruiters receive large influxes of applications each day, so you need to get to the point. Debbie Younger, a recruitment manager for Artisan Recruitment (http://www.getartisan.com.au/), says a cover letter should never exceed a single page. ‘If it’s long-winded fluff, no one will read it – we simply don’t have time for that,’ Younger said. ‘I need to look at the letter and see this is who this person is, what they’ve done and why they’re good for this job.’
Vayenas agrees, suggesting bullet points are a good technique. ‘By doing this the reader then doesn’t have to search for the information,’ he said. ‘And at the end of the day, you want to make it as easy as possible for them to give you a job.’ It emailing your job application, include the cover letter in the body of the email not just as an attachment. You want to make it as easy as possible to read and increase the likelihood of standing out. If it’s an online application and there is a place for a summary or introduction, include part or all of your cover letter. Either way, always include the letter as an attachment as well. You are giving your reader options and making it easy for them to handle your application as they wish.
Finally do not, under any circumstances, allow spelling or grammatical errors to slip in. This includes addressing the letter to the wrong person, misspelling a name or misidentifying someone’s job title. Brian will not give you a job if you send the letter to Bryan no matter how impressive the rest of your cover letter.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rachel Chant is director and producer of Sydney-based independent theatre company Eclective Productions.