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In our latest Career Insights blog, YAIA’s Careers Officer Kate Purcell discusses how to prepare an effective and authentic cover letter that will help you land your next role or opportunity.
A strong and effective cover letter is often your best opportunity to make a positive impression with a prospective employer. Yet many job applicants underestimate the value of a well-written cover letter, instead focusing almost exclusively on their curriculum vitae.
While your curriculum vitae showcases your relevant qualifications and experiences, your cover letter addresses your motivations for applying for the role and organisation. That’s how your cover letter makes you stand out and persuade the recruiter to invite you to interview.
What is a cover letter?
A cover letter is generally a short and formal business letter that accompanies your curriculum vitae (CV) for a job application. Cover letters offer a key opportunity to succinctly introduce yourself professionally and add context to your CV. Importantly, your cover letter shouldn’t duplicate your CV. A good cover letter complements your CV and any supporting documentation by offering the recruiter insight to why you want the role and how you will be successful in it.
Depending on your reason for writing there are different types of cover letters:
applying for a specific job opening;
prospecting for possible available or future positions; and
networking to learn more about an organisation or requesting assistance in your job search.
While this article focuses on writing cover letters for specific job openings, each type of cover letter needs similar information and level of formality.
Why are cover letters important?
Cover letters are more than a mere convention. They are often the most critical opportunity you have to persuade the recruiter that you are an ideal candidate for the position and are worth their time interviewing. Recruiters can even use cover letters to screen candidates – meaning if your cover letter misses the mark, your CV might miss the opportunity to impress. So, while they may not get you the job outright, cover letters are important for getting your application fully considered. Not yet convinced? YAIA’s Strategy, People and Culture Director Tony Che reminds us to make ‘your application more personable. Address the recruitment manager by their appropriate title and names in the cover letter. You want to stand out of the crowd, particularly with so many aspiring graduates.’
So, what goes in a cover letter? And what should you leave off?
Further tips and advice
Tailor your letter to the position
Remember to tailor your cover letter to the specific role and organisation you’re applying for. Generic cover letters are easy to spot, can be underwhelming to read and may be seen as a sign of laziness.
Tailoring includes highlighting specific skills or qualifications you have that align with the position description. You should also refer to why you are motivated to work in the specific organisation or role to demonstrate that you understand what they do and have considered how you are a good fit.
Set the right tone
Regardless of what country you hope to work in, your cover letter should always be professional, personal and positive. It is also best to avoid slang or clichés that may not resonate with the recruiter. By keeping it professional you show the recruiter that you're ready to take on the role and represent their organisation in a positive light.
That said, finding the right balance between formal and personal is important. You may show your work personality by explaining how you like to work ‘independently’ or ‘collaboratively in a team’. If relevant, a brief sentence on how your values align with the organisation’s can also add some personality and give a glimpse of what is most important to you as an employee.
Just like your CV, spelling mistakes are a big no-no and can signal a lack of attention to detail or care. Ask a friend, family member or mentor to provide feedback and to proofread your cover letter. They make pick up something small that could make the difference in your successful application.
Be your (professional) authentic self
Recruiters are genuinely interested in learning about you and your experiences. They read your CV and cover letter with the hope that you are the right candidate for the role. That is why authenticity and confidence stand out in cover letters. You can do this by using positive phrasing such as “I can”, “I have” or “I believe”. Likewise, while you may feel more comfortable being humble, try to not be negative on your experience or qualify your responses, such as “While I don’t have much professional experience, I am…”. After all, recruiters want to learn about you and your best professional self!
Putting it all together
When applying internationally
When applying for roles overseas, it is important to understand the level of formality and style most common in job applications in that country. For example, Australian organisations tend to allow less formal cover letters, whereas in the United States, cover letters are expected to be assertive and sell yourself. That said, irrespective of the country in which you are applying, it is important for your cover letter to be professional and tailored to the role. If in doubt, a conservative business letter is best.
If you are writing your cover letter in a second language, consider asking a native speaker or someone working in that country to review it too. They will understand the local cover letter culture and be able to proof your writing. Likewise, remember to get your American/British English spelling right for the country. For example, organize/organise and finalize/finalise.
Just keep applying!
Remember that new jobs and opportunities are always coming and going. If you miss out, stay positive and take care of yourself during the job application process.
If you are unsuccessful in an application, always reach out to the recruiter and ask whether they are willing to provide feedback. While not all recruiters will have time offer you tailored advice, you may be surprised how willing people are to support you – their advice may make the difference in your next application!
If you’re interested in learning more about how to write and tailor cover letters, you are always welcome to contact the YAIA Careers team.
Good luck and just keep applying!