How to make positive impressions with Hiring Managers and Recruiters in the first few seconds they read your cover letter.
I am often asked questions by job seekers about cover letters. Cover letters are like the sand in the oyster for most – an irritation. But if done right they are valuable, just like a pearl.
A cover letter needs to be included whenever the job application process requests one.
I teach job seekers how to attract the attention of Recruiters and Hiring Managers in the first few seconds. Here are some helpful guidelines for crafting a cover letter so that you make a positive impression when it is read by a Recruiter or Hiring Manager.
The Aim of a Cover Letter
The aim of the cover letter is to grab the attention and interest of the Recruiter or Hiring Manager from the get go.
Make sure your cover letter:
- Gives your contact details (name, mobile, e-mail, LinkedIn or other relevant social media addresses);
- Introduces who you are;
- Qualifies which job you are applying for or seeking (there may be many jobs a prospective employer has vacant);
- Helps the Recruiter and Hiring Manager quickly grasp that your skills match the job you are applying for;
- Ends with a suggested call to action, such as you calling or e-mailing them to follow up or within a time frame if you have not heard from them.
The Expected Length of a Cover Letter
You should aim for a cover letter to be one page in length.
Your sole intention is to grab the attention of the Hiring Manager or Recruiter, get them to engage positively with you, and to demonstrate that you have experience or knowledge on the job.
The cover letter is a short summary of what the Hiring Manager or Recruiter might expect to see while reading your résumé.
Tailoring Your Cover Letter
Each job application requires a tailored cover letter.
Yes, you can re-purpose much of what you have crafted for prior cover letters, but ensure each and every criterion the Hiring Manager or Recruiter is requiring from each applicant is addressed in your cover letter.
To do so, be specific with pithy examples or facts that evidence you have what the employer needs.
Address the Cover Letter Appropriately
Use Thrust.io – a handy free tool to find out the right e-mail address, if you are targeting the employer directly.
Use LinkedIn to find out more about the person.
There are simply no excuses for you to write: “To Whom It May Concern”.
And please, please under no circumstances, write “Dear Esteemed Sir” …yes this does happen.
Become a Sherlock Holmes/CSI Detective
Wherever possible, it pays to find out more about the job before you craft your cover letter.
Use LinkedIn to find out who among your connections works for the same company or might know the Hiring Manager.
When you do reach out to find more, ask questions along the lines of:
- Tell me more about the company, the manager, and the job itself.
- How long has the job been vacant and why?
- What does the ideal candidate look like – from the perspectives of knowledge, skill, and industry.
- Can you get a hold of the position description (of course if that is in the job advertisement, then do not ask for this.)
- What does successful performance look like in the first 3 – 6 months?
On your own, find out more by:
- Visiting the company’s and/or the recruiter’s website;
- Checking out the employer via LinkedIn by visiting the company page;
- Speaking with the recruitment firm and trying to get an idea who the employer is (often recruiters will avoid disclosing their client in the advertisement.)
Structure of a Cover Letter
Include your name, e-mail address, mobile phone number, and any relevant social media accounts like LinkedIn. If the job is in the design/visual space, then it might be appropriate to also include Pinterest or Instagram.
Include a professional e-mail address. If you have a legacy e-mail that could cause you to lose the respect of a Recruiter or Hiring Manager like firstname.lastname@example.org (yes, I have seen worse) then I suggest that you ditch this and decide that it’s time to auto-forward these e-mails to your new, more professional free e-mail with Gmail, Hotmail or Yahoo! with your name e.g. email@example.com. This format will make the right impression with Recruiters and Hiring Managers.
The Hiring Manager’s/Recruiter’s Contact Details:
- Confirm the spelling of the person you are addressing e.g. Phillip or Philip; Rachel or Rachael, etc.
- Use their title correctly: e.g. Human Resources instead of HR or in where HR is called People and Culture, etc.
The Job Title and Job Reference Code for Which You Are Applying:
Where you are applying for a specifically advertised role, then refer to the job title that is vacant along with any reference number e.g. Social Media Manager Ref 150514.
Many Recruiters and Hiring Managers use Applicant Management Systems, that sort their open vacancies via job codes.
Grab the Attention of the Recruiter and Hiring Manager Immediately:
If you have crafted your core story, have your reason why or other, then I would succinctly use it right from the start. Tie it into the job.
What’s that look like in a cover letter?
“For as long as I can remember I have…”
“For the last 10 years I have dedicated myself to…”
“I am known by others as having a real talent for…”
Your core story should be abridged here as you are keeping your cover letter to the one page.
Outline Your Relevant Skills:
Your cover letter must succinctly evidence the match between you and the role that is vacant.
Address each of the essential criteria required for the role.
These might be technical qualifications.
Where you need to evidence past experience, then pick your best example, and mention you have elaborated on others in your résumé.
Write Your Cover Letter How they Speak:
Tailor your cover letter to talk like you talk (and that is unlikely to be formal in style).
Much more specifically write your cover letter how they talk.
Do not write obsequiously. But write professionally and as you talk – and with the words you have learned from being the ‘Sherlock Holmes/CSI Detective’ from checking out the employer’s website earlier.
Encourage the Hiring Manager or Recruiter to Read Your Résumé:
Towards the end of the cover letter, invite the Recruiter or Hiring Manager to find out much more about you.
Use phrases such as:
“Please feel free to delve deeper into my résumé…”
“I’d encourage you to find out more….”
Encourage the Reader to Contact You:
Also include a sentence along the lines of
“I look forward to meeting you and discussing the job further. If I have not heard from you, in about a week, please expect a call or e-mail from me.’
Avoid Including the Following in Your Cover Letter
- Typos or syntax. Spell check. Use appropriate spelling for your location. If applying to non-USA based countries, then use ‘s’ instead of ‘z’ as in ‘organise’ vs ‘organize’ and vice versa.
- Use ‘Speak It’ or the Speech function and have the letter read to you by your Mac or PC.
- Get a friend to read your cover letter and peruse for errors.
- Avoid including your whole résumé. Remember the cover letter is your first impression and an adjunct to your main selling document, namely your résumé.
- Avoid using waffle words such as: “it’s important to be…” or “one should always…”
Applying to an Employer with No Advertised Job
The approach is similar to applying for a role that has been advertised, but with a few differences.
- Demonstrate that you know about the employer – check out any news on their website.
- Immediately use your core story and address why you are interested in being employed by them.
- Tie in their goals/mission with your core story and your purpose.
- Outline how your knowledge, skills, and experience fit in with their goals.
- Be specific about what you aim to get from contacting them proactively.
- Finish the letter with a call to action.
- Have a subject line such as “Would love to contribute to your business’ goals”.
E-mail Cover Letters
Depending on your personality and the culture, consider including the Recruiter or Hiring Manager’s name in the e-mail Subject Heading, e.g.
Subject: Hi John: Applying for Social Media Manager Ref 150514
Always include a call to action.
- Remember that the cover letter should be one page in length.
- Font size: I suggest no smaller than 10.5 and ideally format in 12 point.
- Use the same font as the job advertisement/web site. Most of the time, if you right click the webpage/job advertisement and you “inspect the elements”, then you can see the exact font used.
- Send a PDF with active hyperlinks.
If you are a PC user, then Word and its hyperlinks transfer across readily. However if you are a Mac user, then use Pages. The hyperlinks carry across to Mac converter PDFs from Pages, but at the time of writing, Word for Mac is problematic.
Above All Else
- Attract the attention of the Recruiter and Hiring Manager.
- Address the essential criteria.
- Tailor each cover letter to each job.
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