Cover Letter 101: It's not all about you!
After reading my last article about structuring your CV so that it highlights the key skills, capabilities and experience that you most want to convey to the hiring manager, you may be wondering… then what about the Cover Letter?
The common mistake is that people feel it is a long-form version of the CV. As if you are settling down for a fireside chat with the hiring manager and telling them a story about your background. This is why most cover letters are never read. If a CV's purpose is to talk about you then the cover letter is your chance to connect the dots between the role you are applying for and your ability to fulfil it.
When do I need to do a cover letter?
If they don't ask for one, then don't write one. A cover letter is seen as an assessment tool, not a prerequisite. If people want a cover letter they will ask and typically will outline what they want to be covered. Otherwise, you are just throwing mud at the wall. If they don't ask, then put forward a condensed version of the information in the application or in an email. The most important thing is to make sure that your CV includes all the important criteria.
Less is more.
Remember that the hiring manager is probably reviewing upwards of 20 CV’s, an additional 20 cover letters on top of that – so keep it succinct.
Don't talk about your qualifications, to be fair this isn't always the applicant's fault given organisations will often end up asking for a minimum level of education/qualification. But don't waste a paragraph detailing that, as your CV will clearly point out. It offers nothing new and will see the reader skip over it and be less likely to pay attention to subsequent paragraphs.
Take some time to read the role description in detail. Some roles will clearly outline the key needs of the position, but quite often other important bits of information are hidden elsewhere in the description. These might be about challenges/opportunities/priorities, you should make sure you include these in your cover letter.
So how do I write a Cover Letter?
Your cover letter should be at most two pages but one page is better (unless longer is stipulated). It is best approached with humility, so avoid sentences such as “I am perfect for this role” or “I am the best person for this position” because you simply do not know this, and it can come across as arrogant. In fact, really do try to avoid starting sentences with 'I' - a far too common approach. Remember it's not all about you!
Your first paragraph should be a brief introduction. Emphasise that you are interested in this role, what particularly stood out to you and why this aligns with your interests. This paragraph is more about proving you have written this cover letter for this specific job and have a broad understanding.
The following paragraphs should address the key needs of the role. Pick out 3-4 of the key needs that you have identified and look to address each in its own paragraph. This is your chance to reinforce your understanding of the needs and demonstrate how you have proven experience in this area (I have a preference for putting the topic sentence in bold). Here is an example:
"The description highlights that the role will require someone with proven experience in delivering complex PMO in the infrastructure sector. During my time with XXX I was tasked with delivery the ZZZ PMO. This was complex due to the multiple stakeholders and vested interests in its delivery. I was able to address this by _____. As a result, we were able to build a consensus and meant we delivered the project/got the project back on track".
Once you have done this for the key needs of the role you will have created a short document that speaks directly to the hiring manager about their problem and how you will solve it.
What do you think?
How do you approach writing a cover letter? Do you write them at all? I would love to hear your comments, tips and questions.