Is ignoring this one critical aspect of your application costing you your next job?
The Curriculum Vitae or the CV is undoubtedly the most critical document in any application process. However, amidst all the attention that is paid in ensuring that the CV is error free and ‘stands out from the crowd’, the humble introductory Cover Letter is often ignored. Increasingly so, in today’s time of automation, many assume that simple words ‘Please Find Attached’ will suffice instead of a regular letter. However, a carefully and meticulously drafted cover letter could actually turn the tables in your favour.
Many would argue that the sheer number of applications that a hiring manager receives makes it impossible for him/her to go through every single letter, and question its utility. This might be very well the reality, but it doesn’t make a logical case for a poorly written cover letter, or skipping it altogether. Here’s how: No matter your credentials, achievements or creativity, the CV is a strictly formal document, with more or less a set structure. Viewing hundreds of similar looking and sounding CVs is very much likely to downplay any achievement on your application which is worthy of being highlighted. This is where the role of the cover letter is essential. The cover letter, is like a personalised pitch to the organisation, about why you are the best pick, what your achievements have been, and why you want to work with the organisation to begin with. Assuming that the cover letter won’t be read and hence not spending any time on it would prove to be a colossal mistake. The letter would serve the purpose of introducing you and making a solid first impression – as opposed to an indifferent ‘PFA’. A hiring manager may read your letter right away, or read the letters of short-listed candidates, or might just want to read your letter at any given point, and giving it a miss reflect negatively on you.
Now that we have discussed the importance of a cover letter, the pertinent question becomes, what makes for a good cover letter? Although, the content, the formal and the overall narrative of any cover letter will be reflective of the position and the personality of the applicant, there are still some overarching guidelines one can follow:
Format: Depending on the mode of your application, the format is critical. If you are submitting your application in person, on paper, a separate one-page cover letter must accompany the resume. However, in the virtual world the rules change. As a thumb rule, if the organisation clearly mentions to send in a cover letter and the CV, they must be sent as separate attachments (preferably PDF, because the formatting might differ otherwise). Furthermore, if the application is being sent by email, and no clear specifications have been mentioned, you can also write the cover letter in the body of the email.
Structure: The structure of the letter must ideally be, salutation, your introduction, opening paragraph – highlighting your achievements, additional paragraph – highlighting your reasons to join, conclusion. The first two lines of your letter should be the most impactful and you should avoid clichéd words like driven, passionate, motivated, and enthusiastic – if you truly want to be successful in grabbing the hiring manager’s attention. The idea is to convey your skills, achievements, reasons, and make your pitch effectively.
Focus: Do not make the mistake of focussing too much exclusively only on yourself – your achievements, skills and experience, or completely on your reasons to join the organisation. Strike a balance between the two, to clearly communicate that you are the best suited for the position, and furthermore, why you are looking to join the organisation.
Length: Lastly, do not keep the cover letter more than two, maximum, and three paragraphs. Do not confuse the purpose of the letter, which is to lay a solid foundation to your main application – the CV. So refrain from giving details, save them for the CV and mention only the highlights. The length of the letter, especially if written in the body of the email, must not exceed two paragraphs.
Now you know! Why it is essential to draft a cover letter, and how you can make yours noticeable. In essence, a cover letter forms an important part of any application and must not be taken lightly. Before applying to any position, the applicant must ideally spend a good amount of time carefully, and honestly, writing the same to convey the information which cannot be explicitly stated on a CV. Keep it short, simple and clear, and your chances of making it to the next round will definitely look better. Good luck!