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Last updated on 12/12/19

Put together an attractive cover letter

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You've analysed the job offer and noted the key points. The applicant profile seems to fit you to a T, and you’ve highlighted your strengths!

You’re ready to write a cover letter that is going to win the recruiter over.

This isn’t everyone's favorite part of the application! However, you need to stick to it, as a good cover letter allows you to stand out from the applicants who have overlooked its importance. We’ll help you master a few basic principles and avoid a number of classic mistakes.

Why send a cover letter?

In the vast majority of cases, your CV will have to be accompanied by an e-mail or a cover letter. Even if a cover letter isn't required, a well-written one will give you a significant advantage.

If your CV holds the recruiter's attention, he may like what he sees, look closer at your application and decide whether or not to offer you an interview. It would be a shame if he passed you over because your letter undermined the impression made by your CV!

You’ll have to put your heart and soul into drafting and writing this letter. 😊 As you’re selling yourself to the recruiter, it's important to highlight your key assets and convince them that you could be the right person!

How does an employer or recruiter think?

An employer is looking for skills, experience, and above all a person who is going to fit easily into their team, work effectively with their customers, cooperate well with their line manager, and contribute to the company’s development. The recruiter's challenge is to understand the person behind the CV. Poor recruitment wastes time and money. A poor placement can also affect the team's on a daily basis, especially if they have to work alongside an unsuitable colleague.

A recruiter will try to save time when reading your cover letter. They’ll look at all your strengths in both your CV and letter and detect the specific points which indicate you’ll be successful in the job. Likewise, understand that the recruiter will read between the lines about what you don't say! They're looking to be convinced and won over.

Recruitment works like a funnel. For every 100 CVs received, the recruiter will:

  • keep approximately 50 based on first-impressions;

  • organise a phone interview with around 20 applicants;

  • interview about 10 applicants in person;

  • finally, they'll shortlist five...

  • and hire one!

If you want to be the one who gets hired, you need to get through all the levels of selection. Therefore, take this stage of writing your cover letter very seriously.

Tailor your cover letter to the job context

For each situation you face, you’ll need to adopt a different strategy suited to each context.

Different job contexts you may face:

  • Replying to a specific job offer directly to the employer, CEO or future line manager;

  • Answering a job offer via a recruiter (HR department or outside consultant);

  • Applying spontaneously, without any contact within the company;

  • Applying spontaneously using a mutual contact who has recommended you;

  • Submitting an application following an initial contact at a job event, or a discussion on LinkedIn! 

Whatever the case, the recruiter needs to be convinced of your worth! Be careful - if you undervalue yourself, it's going to be difficult convincing the recruiter. Have confidence in yourself! 😊

Beyond the objectives and qualifications included in the CV (your training, expertise and achievements, etc.), you must capture his attention and make him want to meet you.

You’re replying to a job advert

The recruiter has posted a job advert that has caught your attention. You found it on the web, a job board, social media or on the company’s jobs page. It may even be that one of your contacts has sent it to you.

In a job advert, a recruiter will convey the maximum amount of information regarding the company, the job, the desired applicant profile, and how to apply in a minimum amount of space. The recruiter's aim is to capture the attention of the right candidates and the ideal future employee.

That’s right, a recruiter can dream too!!

Hence the importance of reading the advert carefully, noting the keywords, and identifying the profile the recruiter is looking for, as clearly shown in the previous part of this course.

In this advert, the employer casts a wide net hoping to reach a lot of potential candidates with the required qualities. The successful candidate will show a genuine interest in the company, share the same values (ideally) and has first-hand experience.

What’s going to make the difference?

In your cover letter, you’re going to highlight your interest in the company, your understanding of the post and what will make you a successful employee.

The recruiter must be able to identify that you are a motivated applicant with a career plan and skills tailored to his needs. He must be satisfied that you will be able to fit in and develop effectively in the post and within the company.

It’s up to you to show this in your cover letter!

You’re submitting a “spontaneous” application!

A spontaneous application is an offer to collaborate with a company which hasn't expressed a need. Therefore, you’ll have to arouse this need by making the recruiter see how you can be useful to the company’s development and contribute effectively to its projects or to certain activities. You want to generate added value that exceeds the salary they will pay you!

Don't assume you're alone in sending in your spontaneous application; certain large companies like BP energy, HSBC or Google struggle to deal with the amount of spontaneous applications they receive every year! Stand out from the crowd and target less well-known companies.

Even if they don’t have any vacancies right away, employers like to build up a talent pool by putting aside the interesting applications they receive. In this way, they’ll be able to get back to you if and when the situation changes in order to cover their needs. This is especially true if you have rare and sought-after qualities.

Applying spontaneously can be very effective when you:

  • are super interested in a company, and the strength of your conviction could move mountains! An employer cannot remain indifferent and miss out on such dynamic energy.

  • have a contact in this company and you know there are vacancies that have not yet been publicized on the job market! 

  • have explored the company’s jobs site or their job boards, you’ve analysed the posts open to recruitment, and you’re convinced there could be a place for you there! 

An example: 

Frequently, start-ups recruit developers on open-ended contracts. Perhaps you're looking for an opportunity which will allow you to attend a sandwich course and you’re convinced that you can work as a junior developer in three months and be fully operational in 12 months. You have confidence in yourself, so don’t hesitate - apply and sell the company your idea and your project.

How to be convincing?

If you find a company you are interested in, figure out what they're looking for and write an interesting message that meets their needs. You must adapt your way of communicating to show you’re speaking the other person’s language!

Here's an example using a familiar situation - when you meet new people:

  1. Having just arrived at a party, you approach a charming person and talk about yourself. "Hello, do we know each other? Let me introduce myself. I love this party, everything’s wonderful, and it’s just the sort of music I like. I enjoy getting up early and going for a run. It’s good for your health, it gives you energy all day long. And the last series I watched, it was really cool, by the second episode I’d already guessed that…" And there it is - game over! The person you’ve been talking to gets bored and moves away, a bit taken aback by so much self-centredness and so little interest in the other person!

  2. You arrive at the gathering and observe the people around you. After a while, you notice that another guest seems to like Prince’s music, so you approach him and start by talking about the singer's hits and other music. You’re getting on well, you listen to the other person, adapt your conversation, and he eventually introduces you to his friends.

Now let’s come back to you; how do you want to go about making contact? Behaving like a pest who harasses companies, talking only about yourself, your wants and needs? Or, after observing the company, skillfully offering the exact competencies they need?

If you want to stand out, show the company that you are interested, that you know what they represent, where they are going and what value you can add.

Your cover letter should emphasise your knowledge of the company, what’s happening in it, and your own analysis of developments in its economic sector.

Note: highlight the benefits the company would gain by having you on-board!

You're applying following an initial contact

If you've had an initial contact and caught the recruiter's attention, you've made an important first step!

Several possibilities:

  • One of your contacts has told you about a current vacancy in a team and has given you the e-mail address of the manager or recruiter;

  • You are applying following an initial meeting at a job dating event; in this case, you’ve picked up a business card or the contact details of the person to apply to and, ideally, you’ve already had the first interview; 

  • You've had direct contact with a recruiter through your LinkedIn profile and have been asked to send your CV and cover letter to formalize your application.

Make the most of this initial contact:

Don’t lose the business card and contact details. Include a number of details to enrich and support your application:

  • Your knowledge of the company, the job, and the desired profile will be more complete and more detailed. 

  • Use details like the name of the person you saw/informed you, the date you met and where, or the name of the event.

  • Mention the interview or interaction you already had, use points that appear to be effective and convincing; go into greater detail about the most relevant experience and skills.

Apply effectively

Let’s look at how to broaden your thinking and avoid certain classic mistakes!

10 simple but important tips:

  1. A cover letter must fit on no more than a single page; otherwise, the recruiter won’t read it.

  2. Use simple, short, easy-to-understand sentences, using action verbs!

  3. Avoid words that cast doubt: “I think… / I believe… / perhaps…”  

  4. Avoid negative turns of phrase: “I won’t be able to… / I’ve never done…” What interests a recruiter is what you do know, what you can do! 

  5. Re-use the recruiter’s own words — you’ll both be speaking the same language.

  6. Devote time to your application; to begin, you’ll need at least an hour to write a cover letter; then, you can build up a sample base, and things will eventually start to move quickly!

  7. Your letter mustn’t simply repeat your CV; select the key points corresponding to the recruiter’s need.

  8. Get rid of all spelling mistakes; if necessary, get someone else to read it through. 

  9. When considering the overall presentation of the letter, be sure to have space, paragraphs, and a 10-12 point font size.

  10. Check the company’s and the recruiter’s contact details carefully before sending the letter.  

Cover e-mail

When sending a CV by e-mail, a text box of just 10 lines is required. This is becoming more common when you apply via LinkedIn or a job board as well. Sometimes, just forwarding the profile is enough!

Writing a cover e-mail requires an ability to summarize. You need to get straight to the point – no “padding”, nothing but useful words!

You’ll need to work on your tagline – the first words the recruiter is going to read. Often, you’ll start by indicating your greatest strength! You have to use your trump cards straight away.

For example:

  • “following 5 years of successful experience in your business sector…”

  • “after contributing to developing the online sales platform for…”

  • “having recently qualified from a training course with OpenClassrooms…”  

Anticipate and briefly answer the questions the recruiter may be asking themselves about you! For example, if you are a “junior”, reassure them by emphasizing your ability to learn and adapt.

Sum up in a few lines the key points from your CV – the ones that prove you match the recruiter’s needs. Make them want to consult the details of your CV, and better still, meet you in person!

You should end your letter by asking to meet them: “Looking forward to meeting you shortly…”

Producing an “original” cover letter

Try to stand out from the crowd by sending an “original” cover letter.

You’re taking a gamble, and it's up to you to decide but accept the consequences! You’ll definitely grab the recruiter’s attention, who probably gets bored reading through the cover letters that they receive.

The problem is that you rarely know to whom you are writing. Everything depends on the person you’re dealing with and his field. In certain jobs, showing originality can demonstrate a required skill. In others, it can work against you!

You need to know how to keep things relevant and not overdo it. A little originality may prove enough – for example, in your choice of typeface. If in doubt, keep it plain and concise.

A little extra creativity

If you are applying in a creative or artistic field, it can be worthwhile to personalize your cover letter, demonstrating a good understanding of the company’s image or its world! Similarly, a developer may in some cases, code his cover letter, integrate it into a website or an animation.

Points of conviction

Do you understand the company’s needs, are happy with its culture and convinced you have the skills the recruiter is looking for?

If all this is clear to you and the words come out all on their own, then go right ahead! Have confidence in yourself and say what you need to say. Nothing is better than your spontaneity if you are convinced and know what you are talking about!

Describe your skills, achievements, your understanding of their problems, and be proactive by coming up with suggestions. You’re already starting to collaborate, to work with them – you’re already in the job!

Humour

Yes, that can work too – but not with everyone. If you have an impeccable CV, real skills for the job, then yes – the recruiter will likely recognise and appreciate a good sense of humour and consider you in preference to another applicant.

Using video

You can choose to make a video cover letter if you are good at that or are well supported! It’s increasingly popular these days.

However, make it effective! Creating a video demonstrates your skills, highlights your communication abilities, summarises problems, and gets your point across. This is especially true if you want to work in public relations, video, or digital marketing.

Let's recap!

A good cover letter must be effective, persuasive, and reassuring to the recruiter! It’ll give him proof of everything relevant to your application, the interest you have in the company, and your understanding of the company’s needs.

Example of certificate of achievement
Example of certificate of achievement