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How to write a cover letter that stands out
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 2021.
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 2021.
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. Personalise it to match the job listing
Address your letter to the appropriate person, quote the job title and reference number (if applicable), and add where and when you saw the advertisement. Also, include the date and your contact details.
3. Use a clear and concise structure
A good cover letter uses short sentences, simple language and is concise. It should be between 3-4 paragraphs in length and no longer than one page.
Begin by clearly stating why you are interested in the role and company. Next, demonstrate how your key skills, qualifications and experience can help the business meet its goals. Show how your interests and personal qualities make you the best fit for the job and close by thanking the reader for considering your application.
4. Use a clear and concise structure
Your cover letter should express how your unique combination of attributes could add real value to that particular role in the company. Read the job description carefully so that you can match your most relevant skills, qualifications, knowledge, and experience to the job description with clear examples to support your statements.
5. 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.
6. Keep the tone positive and upbeat
The tone of your cover letter should be professional, friendly, and upbeat. You want to demonstrate that you are enthusiastic about the role and have a positive attitude towards the company. Avoid mentioning areas where you may be lacking the skills or experience listed in the job advertisement, as you can address these in the interview stage.
7. Use a cover letter template
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.
RELATED: Free cover letter templates
8. Give them a reason to read your resume
The point of a cover letter is first to introduce yourself and show why you are a good fit for the role and the company, but it should also act as something of a teaser for your resume. You want the reader to move from the letter to your impressive resume, so don’t simply regurgitate all of the information from your resume into your letter, but rather add tidbits so they will be enticed to continue reading.
9. Avoid clichés
Anyone who has ever worked in an office knows a raft of professional buzzwords – and is already tired of them. Avoid using terms and phrases like ‘team player’ and ‘give everything 110%’. If you’d still like to include these sentiments, find a way to write them in your own language so they don’t get written off by the reader as meaningless filler.
10. Always proofread
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.
Looking for your next job opportunity? Talk to a Michael Page recruitment specialist today.