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The art of a good cover letter. How it can help avoid the sound of silence after an application

Updated: Apr 29

So many mentoring clients tell me that they feel 'lost' when thinking about a cover letter. Where to start? What to say? How long should it be? Are they even looked at? These are all good questions and it is vital to have some idea of structure and flow. Of course, some employers do not ask for a cover letter, whilst others do not read them, even if they do ask for one. But I know some companies that place great value on the cover letter and even use it to score candidates after the interview.

Because so much of the job application process is automated these days, finding places where you can be individual and have some 'personality' is important. The cover letter is the one place where you can really stand out and show yourself to be an individual. It requires a human touch. That means more thought is needed when writing it.

So here are some key things to think about when writing a cover letter:

Get on with it!

Do not start by saying 'I am applying for the role of......'. This wastes time and it is likely this cover letter is an email or in a portal, so the recipient knows what you are writing about. The title of the email can say that or you can quote the job reference at the top. Just get straight to who you are and your experience; "As a qualified journalist my experience includes working for some of the biggest brands and platforms in the UK" as an example.

Know your audience

Remember that your applications are being viewed by HR and the hiring team. So you need to use language that works for both audiences. Being clear about how you match the job criteria is key for HR (who have probably never done the job) but saying more interesting things about your experience is vital for the hiring manager to read.

Do not assume

It is not guaranteed that the person reading the letter has seen your CV - or will even look at it. So repeating information is fine. Imagine that the two documents are going to different people and make sure you are clear about your qualifications and experience in the cover letter.

Ideal candidate

You have to address the 'ideal candidate' part of the job advert. But when doing this, make sure you use examples to show you have the experience and skills that are required. Simply listing what they ask for will not be enough.

Construct a narrative

Writing about yourself is hard. But think about the letter as a piece of writing. If you are a journalist, how would you construct your article and what sort of language would you use? Use the same tools. Add colour and flavour to the cover letter by talking about your experiences. Examples mark your apart. Do not make it too linear. You do not have to start with what you do now and go back all the way to when you started.

Talk about the employer

People often make the mistake of writing cover letters all about themselves. It is important to talk about your experience and skills of course. But, the employer also wants to know that you understand the role they are hiring for and that you understand their company. Use examples of where you have produced content that aligns to their output, or where you have worked with similar audiences.

Do not be too clever - or funky

For some creative industries it is tempting to think being clever with a cover letter is a good thing. Unless this is invited in the advert (which it sometimes is) you should keep it straight but interesting.

The Jedi sentence

It is not a Jedi sentence really - but it is always good to finish with 'I look forward to hearing from you'. It is positive and assertive and you never know, it might just nudge them into replying!

If you would like more specific help with a job application, I provide a cover letter template to clients and help get the wording right for your dream job. Just get in touch to find out more.


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