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Anatomy of an Effective Cover Letter
Whether it’s a required component or not, a cover letter is an integral part of your application. Your resume is meant to tell your career story – the experience you have, your skills, and your knowledge. The cover letter supplements that with an explanation about who you are, what you can do for the organisation, and why you’re a great candidate for their role.
A well-written cover letter ultimately helps hiring managers decide whether or not they’ll bring in a candidate to interview, especially in a competitive job market. Here are five key components of the perfect cover letter and cover letter examples for you to use.
1. The Salutation
Your cover letter should theoretically be addressed to the individual who will be reading it – however, it’s often difficult to ascertain who exactly will be reviewing your application. You can address your letter generally [To Whom It May Concern; [Company Name] Recruiting Team] or more specifically, directly to a member of the HR team, the hiring manager, or the individual who posted the job. Even if you’re certain it’s a casual organisation, always opt for the more formal address [Mr./Ms./Mrs./Dr.], rather than a casual first name.
Always, always triple check your letter before submission to ensure that you are sending the correct letter to the correct individual at the correct organisation. It’s unlikely your cover letter will be read if you address it to someone at a rival corporation.
2. The Introduction
You will open with an introduction; remember this is your first impression, so make it good. A great way to open is to begin with a question, reference something interesting from the company website or from the job posting, and/or talk about how your values align—anything that will capture the attention of the hiring manager immediately and entice them to continue reading.
It is like when you are assessing which book you would like to read next, if your attention is not captured on the first page or two, you are likely going to put the book back on the shelf. Don’t let your resume get put back on the shelf! In your opening paragraph, you may also include the position that you are applying for and state where you learned of the job vacancy too.
3. Your Sales Pitch
Remember, there are likely a dozen other candidates with similar credentials applying for this role – so what sets you apart? Why should the hiring team want to learn more about you? Follow up your introduction, which tells them what you can do, with your sales pitch, which tells them why you’re the best at it. If at all possible, use the keywords and jargon present in the job description to integrate your current skills with the organisation’s needs.
Start with a recent accomplishment that’s relevant to the job you’re applying for. Tell the hiring team what the problem was, what your solution was, and the result of your hard work. Use metrics when possible.
4. Your Explanation
This section won’t apply to every letter, but if applicable, should be included as part of the body of your cover letter. If there are any discrepancies on your resume – gap in work history, career change, missing skills/experience for the role you’re applying for, etc – they should be addressed in your cover letter. This allows the hiring team to focus more on your qualifications, not the “what-if’s” that might cause them to choose another candidate instead.
Any unclear logistical information (such as an out-of-town address) should be addressed just before your closing sentence.
5. The Sign Off
There’s a lot of advice out there that will tell you to include a “firm” end to your cover letter with a promise to follow up in [x] days to “set up an interview”. Unfortunately, job hunting doesn’t work like that – once you submit your application, it’s in the hands of the hiring team, and it’s their call if you’re the best candidate or not.
Instead of something firm, opt for a positive sign off that reiterates your best qualities or a courteous closing remark.
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