Showcase your personality and achievements to stand out from the crowd explains Claire Gray

Applying for a new role is a full-time job in itself; as a job seeker you can spend days on end sourcing an appropriate job for your skillset. Once your ‘dream role’ has been located then follows the application process whereby your up-to-date CV is required, as well as the dreaded cover letter.

Nowadays, employers look to receive a cover letter from potential employees, as it gives them the opportunity to virtually ‘meet’ the applicant and draw an insight into their life and career-to-date. Simply put, a cover letter is essential to a job application.

A cover letter must be tailored to match the specific job you are applying for each time; once you have mastered the art of writing one, you will be in a much more desirable position for securing the role.

Does every application need a cover letter?

As a founder of a recruitment consultancy, I believe equivocally that a cover letter is essential to make you stand out from other applicants in the recruitment process.

To skip on writing one, you’ll be selling yourself short and also look somewhat lazy to the recruiter – not what you want during the first stage of the application. Set aside an hour of your time to draft one up, and then use that as your template when applying for new roles – ensuring you tweak it to match the job and the company you are applying to.

Of course, if a job application expresses that a cover letter is not needed and asks you not to send one, then you must oblige. If this is the case, take the time to edit your CV to match the role and point out how your skills can be attributed to the new position – if a company isn’t after a cover letter, they will more than likely expect the CV to be tailored specifically for them.

The most useful cover letters are when the applicant is explaining what they are looking for next and why, effectively filling in the story around their experience and career-to-date. Cover letters are not always relevant as properly laid out and well written CVs speak for themselves in terms of experience, skills and qualifications, but what they don’t show is personality and future career aspirations. This is crucial in helping candidates stand out from the crowd and getting selected for an interview.

For example, I recently read a cover letter from someone who on her CV was very high achieving with an incredible career history, but her cover letter indicated that she was seeking a part-time role to concentrate on other projects and get her work/life balance back.

A cover letter provides you with an opportunity to shout about your achievements. For example, if you have recently spoken at an event or liaised with a client to run an office summer party then let the recruiter or employer know. It also allows you to showcase some of your personality, but in a professional manner. If you are part of a charity where you run events, be sure to share some details; similarly, if you host an evening class and teach students now is your chance to reveal your skills. A CV is an incredibly formal piece of literature that keeps a strict format, however with a cover letter you can provide an in-depth look into your life and goals.

To help aid the process, here are my top tips to ensure a standout cover letter:

Make it short

Aim to keep your cover letter to around 600 words with a few paragraphs highlighting your skills for the particular role; it should never be any longer than a page.

Address the hirer

Before you send off your letter, it is worth researching into the company and finding out who the hiring manager or recruiter is. By adding their name into the letter, you will instantly score points as that person knows you have done your research and are serious about joining the company and taking on the role. If this just isn’t possible, beginning with ‘Dear whom it may concern’ is a reliable opener.

How to personalise it

Any cover letter you produce should introduce you as a person and your skills. However, be careful of using the word ‘I’ too often, as you don’t want it to sound too much like a biography. Ensure you draw on your experiences and keep a focus on the job specification and what the company is really looking for from a potential employee.

Keep it tailored

Your cover letter should be focussed on the role you are applying for and highlight key points as to why you would be suitable for the role and company you are applying to. Take a look through the job specification – if it mentions that the business is seeking someone who is able to work as part of a team as well as alone, provide examples of how you have done this and why you would be a suitable candidate.

Keep it professional

On too many occasions I have been given a clunky cover letter that has no flow, so make sure it is set out properly. I have also started to see an increase in a less formal style of cover letter – it must be professional. I would suggest avoiding any informal, chatty language (this can be saved for the latter interview process if the recruiter appears less formal) and stick to a proficient manner.

Spelling errors

It is vital to make sure a cover letter is grammatically correct. Read through yours before you send it, and spell check it using an online tool – you could even ask a friend or trustworthy colleague to glance over it – that way you’ll have had two sets of eyes check through for any typos. Another important factor to consider is to make sure the letter isn’t repetitive. You need to provide a list of your skills and showcase how you have achieved them by using different language, so the employer doesn’t lose interest.

Font choice

The choice of font on a cover letter and CV is often overlooked and something that isn’t considered very important; however, any job hunter should think about it and choose wisely. The font on both documents should be the same, plus the font needs to be clear and easy to read. An employer can receive over 100 job applications for a single role, and if you have written yours in Comic Sans, I doubt very much that the recruiter will finish reading your application.

Complement your CV

A cover letter should complement your CV and link to the skills you have professed you have. For example, on your CV you may have mentioned that you organised a meeting for your boss overseas; in your cover letter you can expand on this and reveal how you negotiated with people in a different country and why your boss was impressed.

Signing off

Last but not least, don’t forget to sign off with your full name. This is a formal letter after all, and you should follow the proper protocol.

Whether you’re emailing or posting your letter to an employer, remember to read the job specification thoroughly beforehand and research the company – that way your letter will be tailored perfectly and will match what the employer is looking for.

By taking some time to curate a cover letter, you will instantly be ranked higher than those job seekers who chose not to send one – meaning you are already one step ahead.

In the assistant industry where many assistants wear many hats and are responsible for a number of tasks, a cover letter provides you with a platform to showcase all that you do.

So, next time you go to apply for your dream role, consider each of these elements to help make your application go the extra mile.

Good luck!

Claire Gray grew up in Oxford and studied Art and Print Design followed by a short secretarial course before securing her first job in an established law firm in the city. After a number of years, Claire moved to a boutique agency specialising in ... (Read More)

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