Your cover letter is the beginning of everything. When you are applying for a job the cover letter is the first thing the recruiter or employer will see – it is your sales pitch. This letter needs to generate enthusiasm and catch the reader’s interest enough to motivate him/her to action: calling you in for an interview.
At the time of writing this article, we at Congrapps have reviewed around 600 Cover Letters / Applications and I would hate to break it to you but there isn’t a recipe for the Perfect Cover Letter. We have noticed that there is a great correlation between the cover letters for each company – there are a few unique things that if you mention in your cover letter it would demonstrate that you have done your research for the company.
Think of it this way – approach your cover letter from a marketing perspective instead of trying to sound too formal. Imagine yourself at Dragon’s Den. You have one minute to convince 5 experienced businesspeople to invest in your idea. How would you sell? Similarly, in your cover letter, you have 300-400 words to convince an experienced recruiter to invite you for an interview.
Cover letters are just as important as your CV and the differences between the two are huge. They are two separate documents with different strategies.
Consider your CV as a master document that can be reused time and time again. You will need to update and focus it depending on the industry and type of position you are applying for and you could have several variations, but it is a single document that gives a broad overview of your career. The cover letter is unique to every person you are contacting and every job you are applying for. This means every letter must be customised to the situation and the recipient.
How to write a Great (not perfect) Cover Letter
Your Cover Letter is the first sample of your writing ability, attention to detail, and communication style. Make sure this first introduction is everything you wish it could be. When writing your cover letter, make sure you don’t go longer than a page. We also recommend following the below structure:
- Opening paragraph
- Why this Company
- Why the particular Department
- Why you
- Closing paragraph
1. Opening Paragraph
The Opening paragraph is the easiest one as it should always be short and simple. In 2-3 sentences you must convince your recruiter to read further. Here is where you add a quick but intriguing description about yourself and state for which position you apply. An effective opening paragraph would look like the following. As you can see the candidate is clear about the purpose of this letter while simultaneously giving a glimpse to the reader about his/her profile.
My name is [X], I am a recent economics and management graduate from King’s College London with work experience in investment banking and sales operations. I am addressing you this letter as part of my application for the [Company Name] Summer Associate position.
2. Why this Company
This is the most important part of your cover letter. Big companies receive thousands of applications every year so you need to stand out of the crowd. Convincing them you know enough about the industry, and more specifically their company, is the foundation for a successful application. Show in some way that you admire who they are. You should have done research on each company first, and from that, you will find a statement that shows your understanding of who they are and what they do. This is the part that we expect to take most of your time. Don’t be vague and never use cliché statements. Back every statement you make with evidence. Below is an example:
[…] My involvement with legal-tech start-ups helped me experience the transition from traditional legal advice to tech-enabled client solutions. Accordingly, in my pursuit for a Training Contract, I am looking for a law firm with a viable business model that is future-proof and well-positioned to address clients’ demands for new skills, alternative business models and greater efficiency. In that regard, I believe that the three pillars of Ashurst, namely the traditional legal practice, the business service departments and the firm’s delivery functions nurture innovation and ensure viability in the long term. […].
3. Why the particular Department
Big companies have numerous departments. Banks for example have investment banking, wealth management, risk, legal, compliance, technology, human resources and finance teams amongst many others. All these departments look for different people, different skills, different characters as well as offer different career development opportunities. Similarly, if your company is small you need to focus on why you want to focus on a particular niche instead of another area. This requires you to really understand the role that you’re applying for and some of the common skills you would need on a day to day basis. Once you do this, have a think about your personal experiences where you’ve demonstrated that skill and try to connect them to your dream role.
4. Why you
This is the million-dollar question. Here is where your sales mastery should come into play. While we can’t tell you what to write (as it will depend on each candidate’s unique circumstances), there are two things to keep in mind. First, you have to really market yourself. Focus on your unique selling points instead of trying to fit the “typical profile” you think they would like to hear from. Second, follow the STAR method (Situation, Task, Action, Result) to demonstrate how your skills are relevant. Here is an example:
[…] In my previous role as paralegal at [X] I was tasked with binding a folder which my team would use in Court the following day. While carefully reviewing the materials, I realised some of the reports were outdated. To solve the problem, I searched for key contacts in my firm’s internal communications only to realise that the Partner’s personal assistant was not copied in the latest email chain. As she was the one providing me with the documents, I immediately reached out to her to rectify the issue. I take pride in my contribution to the case as I managed to highlight my passion for law by converting a mundane and repetitive task into an example of diligence and attention to detail. […]
5. Closing paragraph
And time for the grande finale. The closing paragraph is where you should thank your reader for their time and show eagerness to hear back. Similar to the opening paragraph, this should be short and straight to the point. A common mistake students will make is over-doing it on the closing when they don’t need to.
Having read all of the above you must be asking … How do I even start? If you are having trouble getting any ideas of your skills or achievements or even an understanding of how to begin the cover letter, there are a few tricks to help you get started.
- Re-reading your CV will help you develop the right words to use, as will re-reading any job posting you have. Look at your skills and achievements, your highlights, and your objective to see what it is you are trying to say.
- Understand what it is about your career that you want to make happen. If you don’t understand your own needs and how you want your career to develop then it will be difficult to make someone else understand.
- Ask yourself the following questions:
- If you were the recruiter, what kind of person would you like to hire?
- What is your greatest accomplishment?
- What can you do for the company that another person can’t?
- What qualities do you have that you’d like them to know about?
- What skills are you the proudest of having acquired and how you acquired them?
- How do your skills match the requirements of the company?
- What do you like about this position?
- What do you like about this company?
After going over these types of answers, you’ll have a good start at collecting the material you need to write a winning cover letter. What is left to do is put this information into context.
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