Once you’ve decided to start applying for a new job, the first thing you’re likely to have done is to put a significant amount of energy into updating your CV, which is of course the right place to start. However in my experience from speaking to hundreds of job seekers over the years, very few people actually put the same level of energy into writing cover letters.
So, this week’s blog is dedicated to helping you do just that, so you can create a ‘killer cover letter’ to go hand in hand with your smart CV.
Cover letters are an inevitable requirement to almost any job worth going for, so they’re extremely important. After the hiring manager or recruitment specialist has reviewed your CV it’s the first opportunity you have to tell the reader about you and make a good impression. It’s also where many, if not most, candidates are screened out of a job, due to things like poor linking between the experience you have and the requirements of the role you’re applying for, or having something too generic (like a ‘cover letter that covers any job) and in far too many cases poor spelling and grammar.
So, if you want to stay the distance vs the rest of the pack and make the next cut, read on to find a wealth of tips to make your next cover letting a winning ticket to the job interview.
1. Tell them what you’re going to do for them (and then why you want to work there)
This type of content should make up around 50-60% of your cover letter, so make sure you put this level of effort into it. Even when you bring in the reasons why you want this job, do it in a way that re-enforces what you’re going to bring to the organisation, for example;
“I’ve spent the majority of my career to date working in diabetes care sales and have a passion for working with and influencing these customers. This has resulted in me being a consistent high performer due to the strong relationships I have across this group of customers.”
This sounds much better than;
“Your company is seen as one of, if not the leader in diabetes care, therefore I think this would be a great career move for me”.
2. Mirror their stated requirements
When employers create a job description they will usually have a checklist of the things they’re looking for in a new employee sprinkled throughout their paperwork. So, this means in your cover letter, you’re going to have to identify and then check off what they’re asking for in order to convince them to move you forward to interview stage.
Not only will this make their decision making about you simpler, it also provides you with a subtle opportunity to show your smarts. If you’re giving them exactly what they’re asked for then you’ve done almost everything you can.
Obviously this needs to be done in a way that doesn’t look like you’re just taking their words and regurgitating them, it’s more about tuning into their requirements and providing specific examples of what you have in your repetoire that matches up.
3. Highlight your skills in sufficient detail
Usually the main takeaways people will get from your CV will be around the jobs you have done, and they will likely use these as the measure of your suitability (rather than the skills you claim to have). Therefore your cover letter should be used to reverse this a little and highlight your skills in more detail which will allow you to provide a much more holistic view about you, thereby complimenting your CV.
Rather than list out skills one after another, the best thing you can do is get clear on the most important 3-4 skills the employer is looking for and create a a sentence or two against each one.
Taking this approach will allow you to really showcase what’s the most meaningful to the reader and prevent yourself repeating the content of your CV or trying to be all thing to all people.
4. Write a specific cover letter for each job you go for
Too many times I receive cover letters that look like they’ve been written without any consideration of the job being applied for. My advice is to always write a fresh cover letter for each job you’re applying for.
You should also get specific on the key details you’re making claims about in your cover letter, such as citing sales figures, call rate numbers, market share percentages, specific growth rates etc. Make sure you don’t exaggerate either, as we’ve all heard of stories where people have gone into interviews making big claims only for the hiring manager to know former colleagues of the interviewee they can check up with.
5. Keep it real
When you’re writing your cover letter, remember that the hiring manager is likely going to be reading a lot of them. So, while you want to make the letter professional, you also want to put some of your own personality in it.
You shouldn’t ever step over the line of professionalism, but crafting an engaging letter will catch people’s eye and make them think, ‘this would be a good person to work with.’ That might be just enough to set you apart from all the other qualified applicants out there.
OK, so we’ve covered off the core ingredients you’re going to need, now let’s look at the structure of your cover letter;
1. First paragraph – A bit about you (who)
Grab the reader’s attention by announcing your suitability to do the job in the first sentence;
“As an experienced Pharmaceutical Sales Representative with over 10 years of experience, I’m was excited to see your vacancy advertised through CHASE. Therefore please find my cover letter and accompanying CV that outlines my skills and experience respectively for the role of [insert job title].”
2. Second paragraph – Reasons you want this job (why)
Amazingly most job applicants skip this part completely and just go on to talk about themselves, however any good sales or marketing person knows that it’s critical that you can articulate your positive feelings towards something, and going for a job is no different. For example;
“Working as a Key Account Manager in [insert disease area or field] is something I have been working towards since 2014 when I moved into my first Specialty Care sales role. I’ve always believed that if I performed well and built up strong customer relationships I might one day get the opportunity to apply for a role like this with [insert company]”
Whilst it’s important to get the positive emotion across in your letter, make sure you don’t go too far or make up the words for the sake of it. If it’s meaningful then by all means include it. If not then think twice about whether to.
If you don’t have an obvious statement to add in here, do your research on the company and the particular role offered. This should ideally be a mixture of desk research (online) and talking to people within your network. This approach can also help ensure you don’t waste time applying to a job that’s not right for you.
3. Third paragraph – Sell yourself (what you bring)
OK, so this is what you’ve been leading up to… the core of your cover letter where you’re now going to tell the reader what you’ve got in your locker! It’s also the portion of the letter that you should spend most time and thought on.
The golden rule with selling yourself is that you cannot simply list your acheivements, you have to make them relevant to the job you’re applying for.
You can do this by giving specific examples of your work such as;
“When I took over my current territory in 2014, market share of [insert product] was a mere X%, which was one of the lowest in the company. I identified that one of the key reasons for this was due to the lack of endorsement from Specialists to GPs. I set about fixing this and created a quarterly specialist interest group for each of my hospital zones. In these meetings a Specialist would present the latest clinical data, talk about their experience with the product and answer any questions GPs had about [insert product]. The net result was increased access and relationships with my customers that led to Y% growth in market share in just 18 months.”
In this example you can see the writer has demonstrated they’ve been able to analyse an issue, create a solution and deliver tangible results. Again you need to know your numbers and not exaggerate with this section, but following an approach like this, rather than just making a list of items, is going to really make it clear what you’re capable of and draw the reader into your story of success.
Before you get started on this section spend some time carefully reading through the job description before applying your experience. Also (a bit like mirroring body language) make sure you use similar key words in your letter that the employer has in their documentation, so it shows you’ve already started to fit into their way of working.
4. Fourth paragraph – signing off, with presumptive close (segway to next steps)
This section can be short and to the point. Be polite, quietly confident but not arrogant about the prospects of gaining an interview.
“Thank you for taking the time to review my application. I hope you can see how well my experience and results will add value to [insert company] right from day one. I’m really excited about the prospect of expanding on these points and anything else you would like to discuss in an interview setting.
I look forward to hearing from you.
So there you have it. The core ingredients and ideal structure for creating a ‘Killer Cover Letter’ to compliment your Smart CV.
Applying for jobs can be exciting but also a bit of a challenge, especially if you’re going to do it properly or you’re applying for multiple jobs at the same time. Regardless of whether you feel you know what’s needed or at the other end of the scale fell that it’s all a bit daunting, you should work with your Recruitment Consultant to make sure your cover letter is going to do you justice and land you that all important first interview.
If you’re interested in looking at your career options and would like to speak to a member of the team simply call 0131 553 6644 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Senior Recruitment Consultant; SW London / Surrey / Hampshire / Dorset