This is your first chance to make an impression. Make it count! Trust that you have what it takes — you just need to convey it.
Think of your cover letter as the hook. You want the person reading it to be inspired to find out more about you, read your CV and get you in for an interview asap. Veron at Beam calls it a “one-page pitch”.
Know who you’re chatting with
Research is your friend. Crawl the company’s website and social media pages. Read the job description carefully. Look at the annual report. Get to know your potential employer on LinkedIn.
We know that when you’re in job hunting mode, it can be tempting to skip this stage. But put the kettle on and get it done. Bonus: Proper prep at this stage will set you up for a great interview.
All of this data gathering will help you tailor the cover letter (and potentially CV) to the company — and make your application stand out. For example, is it ok to use casual language? (This might be appropriate for a start-up but not a government organisation, NFPs will be different again!). What are the company’s key objectives or themes for the year? Is there news that is relevant to your application and the job you’d be doing?
Don’t make it about you. Make it about you helping the business.
Business owners are hiring you as an investment to help them grow or improve their company. That means they want to see a genuine passion for what the business does, enthusiasm for achieving the role’s key outcomes — and evidence you are the right person to make it happen.
Don’t just express interest for the business. Name why you feel personally connected to it. Give a specific reason or example. (Eg. Is it something the CEO wrote on LinkedIn about flexibility and innovation? Is it the fact that the company has recently become a B Corp?)
Don’t just say what you do. Focus on great outcomes you have delivered for other businesses that are relevant for this role. Help the employer connect the dots on how your past achievements could make a big difference at their organisation. Make them worry about not hiring you. (One or two examples is fine — let your CV do the heavy-lifting here. Remember, this is just the hook!)
Don’t forget to answer any questions or selection criteria they’ve asked you to address
Cut to the chase
Employers are often short on time — and hyper-efficient. Don’t make them work hard to see why you’re a fit. That means shorter sentences, shorter paragraphs, bullet points if appropriate. Don’t use language that is too high-falutin’. Plain English used well is a powerful thing. A cover letter shouldn’t be a sea of indistinguishable words — and it shouldn’t be more than one page! Possible exception: when there are multiple selection criteria to address. Even then, make sure every word counts.
Once you’ve written the cover letter, take a cold, dispassionate look at it (or better, get someone else to do it for you). Is it easy and enjoyable to read? Does it give a good sense of who you are in the workplace? What could you delete without losing impact? Triple check for spelling and grammar errors!
Nb. your ability to leave things out demonstrates that you know how to prioritise what’s most important and are confident you’ll be great for the job.
A bit of personality
This is an interesting one. Our suggestion is to not try too hard.
If you present yourself passionately and authentically, giving clear examples about why you feel connected to the business and how you can help them kick goals, it will give a great sense of who you are without you needing to do more.
Good luck! Hope the next great role is yours.