It's important to get the cover letter right

It’s a curious fact that there are still some people who do not understand the importance of a cover letter, and believe that one is not necessary if you send in a resume. This is untrue, though; a cover letter is a sort of screening process – it is your chance to sell yourself to encourage a recruiter to read your CV, and this is why it is so important.

You may think you have excellent interviewing skills – natural charm, confidence, an ability to dress professionally, but none of these matter if you don’t get called for an interview. And herein lies the importance of a cover letter. Your CV is great for showcasing your education and where you have worked, but the cover letter lets you expand and explain why you want to work for this particular company and what specific experience you have in their field. It is a way to get some of your professional personality across to the employer and make them want to read your resume.

Knowing that it’s important to send one is the first step, but the only thing worse than not sending one at all is sending one that doesn’t do what it’s supposed to. So of the key things to address, the first one is to make it personal.

Do some research on the company to find out who you need to address it to. In the same vein, don’t send a generic cover letter that only talks about you – employers can spot a generic letter a mile away and it won’t do you any favours. If you want to work for a company, you need to sell yourself to them, let them know why you’ll be such an asset. That just isn’t possible with a generic letter. So, do your research, find recent stories about them, look at their company ethos and explore the website to get a solid understanding of the company, and incorporate it into your company while weaving in how you fit perfectly into their philosophy and actions.

It is also important to make the letter concise. Employers will receive scores of applications, and they want to be able to get the details as quickly as possible to save the time of reading paragraph after paragraph of irrelevant information. Start off by stating the position that interests you before moving on to give details about your experience. You can brag, without being obviously arrogant or cocky; it’s a fine line, but there is a difference between “I have a specific set of skills that would make me a good fit for this job” and “I know with my background I can do this job better than any other person” – the latter demonstrates arrogance and an attitude that is likely to be difficult in a working environment, while the former demonstrates an educated, experienced but humble worker, which is always preferable.

The cover letter should then make reference to the accompanying resume by briefly mentioning that full details of your academic and professional career are included in the CV. If the letter does its job of making it clear that you’re a good candidate, the employer will then read your CV. If your cover letter lets the employer know that you aren’t right for the job, then the CV won’t get read.

With that last point in mind, it is also critical to make sure the cover letter is carefully written. Check, re-check and check again for spelling mistakes, loose grammar or punctuation and typos. Particularly, pay attention to the company name and addressee name – there is nothing worse than spelling either one wrong. It may seem trivial, but these minor details show a company that you have attention to detail and want to make a good impression.