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How to stand out with your cover letter
You’re probably familiar with the standard cover letter template. It goes something like this: introduce yourself, explain why you’re a great fit for the job, explain why the company is a great fit for you, then finish by providing your contact details and thanking them for their time.
However, as fresh faces enter the competitive workforce alongside those who are re-entering or moving companies, many of us have a different definition for what constitutes a cover letter in 2020.
For example, the rise of video applications and professionally-designed cover letters are tough to beat — leaving plenty of job seekers feeling like they’re not doing enough to get noticed.
Ultimately, the question on every candidate’s mind is: as recruitment agencies receive more cover letters, what does it truly take to stand out in today’s job search?
We dive into some tips and techniques for writing a cover letter in 2020.
1. Open with a hook
The number one goal of your cover letter is to get a hiring manager interested in you, and what you have to offer. But if your first sentence starts with “I am writing to apply for [job name] at [company name]”, chances are they’ll stop reading straight away — even if you’re a perfect fit for the role.
Swap the standard introduction with a memorable statement instead. Start with an impressive achievement you’re proud of and that’s relevant to the role or highlight an aspect of the job description that stands out to you. If you can get them to keep reading, that’s half the battle won.
2. Let your personality shine through
Recruiters aren’t searching for applicants that can follow a stock-standard cover letter sample. They’re on the lookout for people who will be a good cultural fit, and those who think outside the box.
While cover letter examples are a helpful springboard for inspiration, try not to follow them to a T. Instead, inject a bit of humour and your own personality into the cover letter.
Here’s a great example from a writer at The Daily Muse:
“If I’m in a conference room and the video isn’t working, I’m not the sort to simply call IT and wait. I’ll (gracefully) crawl under the table and check that everything is properly plugged in.”
This type of example not only lightens up the cover letter. It also demonstrates your soft skills to the hiring manager, without being overly stuffy. However, remember to always keep it professional — if you wouldn’t say it in a job interview, don’t put it in your cover letter.
3. Experiment with video
To truly allow your personality to shine through, try breaking from tradition and shooting a video cover letter instead. Video instantly makes your application more memorable, shows you have invested more effort and helps make an impact with your recruiter.
Luckily, you don’t need to be a professional videographer to make an impactful video cover letter — just make sure your video is good quality, concise and well-edited. Pick up a cheap tripod for your phone, write a rough script, then get recording. Use a quiet space with plenty of light, so the hiring manager can hear and see everything well. The biggest risk here is if you submit a poor-quality video or you appear too nervous or aggressive. So if you’re not comfortable doing this, skip this one.
4. Use design templates
If you’ve ever wondered how other people make their cover letter and CV look so great, here’s the secret: templates. There are countless templates on sites like Resume Lab, HubSpot or even Etsy that will help you stand out from the crowd. And the best part? You don’t need design experience to use them.
If you’re using a template, be sure that your cover letter and resume are visually consistent. Keep the same font, colour scheme and formatting for each to ensure you make an impact.
5. Proofread your cover letter
No matter how cover letters change through the ages, this one piece of advice on how to write a cover letter remains the same. Spelling mistakes or poor copy-paste jobs are the fastest way to get your application discarded by hiring managers. And when you’re working with templates or saving as PDFs, it’s easy to let a missed comma, rogue bullet point or incomplete sentence slip by.
Run your cover letter through a proof-reader before saving it as a PDF and have a trusted friend or family member double-check it for mistakes. Reading your cover letter out loud is another great way to catch any tiny errors in the mix.