Let’s look at a classic, effective method for structuring your cover letter.
It might seem complicated the first time you try it, but it will become comfortable, and you’ll be able to re-use your new cover letters as templates for future ones. You’ll gradually build up a portfolio of cover letters and eventually be able to write and customise them more easily and quickly.
Be careful, however, to personalise your understanding of the recruiter's need and communicate your interest in the company!
This classic model involves structuring your letter into three sections:
First of all, show the recruiter that you understand what they need, who they are, the issues within the company, and the applicant they're looking for.
Next, highlight your key assets and how your skills correspond to what the recruiter is looking for.
And lastly, detail what you will bring with you, your added value for the company, your professional qualities and motivation.
This method is called “you/me/us”. Recruiters are generally used to this presentation, enabling them to quickly check the three key points:
You understand the job, and they won’t be wasting time on a candidate who’s going down the wrong path.
You have real skills for the post.
You have assets and qualities to fit into the company, the team, and with their customers and partners.
Let's have a closer look at each section.
“You” – show your interest in the company’s need
Don’t start a cover letter with “I’m looking for a job”. In this first section, the aim is to show the employer that you have understood who they are and what they are looking for.
When applicants don’t talk about the company, it tells a recruiter that they haven’t taken the time to personalise their application and may not have a genuine interest in the job! This shows a lack of personal investment, perhaps a limited work capacity or low motivation.
You want to prove that you’ve taken an interest in the company, in their needs and the issues they face. You also want to show that you know who you are dealing with, in which business sector and in which company you are applying!
Before writing your letter, pursue your enquiries, analyse the job offer, underline the keywords, explore the company’s website; you’re ready to re-use several important pieces of information in your first paragraph.
This may take some time, but it’s a necessary investment to produce a tailor-made letter for the company with which you are applying.
Be careful! You don’t want to tell the recruiter what he already knows. Mention one or two specific elements that caught your attention and that match well with you, your shared values and your motivation.
You need to make the recruiter feel you are not applying at random, that the process has been well thought out, you’ve prepared yourself and are motivated to land this job.
What are the company’s values?
Companies nowadays are increasingly working on their values – what they believe in and what guides their internal and external actions. It's an important part of the employer’s image.
During recruitment, you’re going to be asked about your values, either directly or indirectly, and it helps if they match those of the company.
Don’t wait, check out the company's values! To find them, consult their website or Google the company name along with "company values", and look at their publications and social media. Etsy, for example, publishes their company values on their mission page:
Note the values, as well as specific actions put in place by the company which seem important to you. Don’t just copy or paraphrase the statements found on the website into your cover letter! You must communicate to the recruiter your reaction to these values.
What’s happening right now in the company?
Find out what is currently happening in the company, what its projects are, its development issues, and the challenges it’s facing.
Why is it looking to recruit at the present time? It’s up to you to launch the investigation.
Look through magazines and websites specialising in the company's business sector. If it's a very large company, then taking an interest in economic current affairs could give you some context. If it's a smaller company, you’ll find information on its blog or on social media (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.).
You’ll find information like:
buying-out a competitor
launching a new product
an international development project
or a cyclical crisis, a major challenge to face and quickly
Not only are you going to find a relevant, original tagline, but at the same time you are providing evidence of your:
ability to investigate and analyse
values and your interest in the company
knowledge of its business sector
What are the company’s needs?
You’re not going to stop at a simple list of the values and events that you have noted. You’ll have to “remix” all of that, re-phrase it into your own words, and show that you have understood the needs of the company.
By making an effort to focus on the company’s needs, you are demonstrating your interest and your motivation to understand the way it functions and the issues it has in recruiting for this type of post and candidate profile. A recruiter may be quite sensitive to your effort to understand, proving your ability to focus accurately on how you will be useful to the company!
In the case of a spontaneous application
This proactive approach to find out about the company’s activities and its prospects is particularly vital if you are applying spontaneously.
Don’t just be content to say you are looking for a job – tell a story! Explain how you found out about the company, what attracted you and what you admire in their projects or aims. Catch the recruiter’s attention through your interest, insight and curiosity, your real understanding of the company's development, and your desire to contribute to the company’s success.
“Me” – what are my key assets for the job?
In what ways are you skilled and motivated? Why you are the best candidate? 😁Now that you have studied the profile and carefully identified how your qualifications, experience, skills, qualities, etc., match, you can present your assets in the cover letter.
Be careful! The recruiter is probably drowning in letters where many sentences start with “I am… I’m looking for… I know how to… I do…” without having the slightest connection to the post. A letter explaining everything you are going to find interesting and beneficial about working in the company may end up in the bin.
Be selective and choose two skills, two types of experience and two qualities and relevant details that tie in perfectly with the desired profile. These should provide sufficient evidence of your ability to do the job.
Briefly describe your achievements including completed and successful projects or missions. You can also explain why you like the field so much. Illustrate each of your skills in relation to the post, using specific examples. Explain the experiences that allowed you to make use of the skill and verify the level you’ve achieved in it. Describe what you’ve learned, the problems you’ve solved, the tools used, the methods employed, and the objectives achieved!
In this way, the employer will be able to form a good idea of your talents and your potential.
Consolidate your CV
If you have had an unusual background – for example, a period where you went off travelling or decided to devote yourself to personal projects or bringing up your children, you can take advantage of these to explain in which ways this/those experiences have contributed to your development. Explain your professional background – your career as a whole is what makes you who you are today. Nowadays, linear, uninterrupted career paths are increasingly rare! Show that you are an even richer, more highly skilled applicant than all the others, precisely because you know how to make choices, see your commitments right through to the end and grow, thanks to this/these experiences.
To help you consolidate your "me" section, answer these three questions:
How am I competent?
What proof do I have of my competence?
What are the benefits I will bring to the company?
In doing this, you will find the right ideas for discussion and make the most of your career to date and your personal qualities, depending on the company.
“Us” – a win-win partnership
This is where you explain the ways your collaboration will be a success! You must inspire the recruiter with confidence from the start as this is the beginning of a great story. 😉
Show your desire and motivation to be associated with the company’s project. Talk about yourself within a work context by explaining how your qualities can be used, and how you are going to effectively align yourself with the company.
In what ways do your values match?
The values adopted by the company often go hand-in-hand with the qualities looked for in the post. However, you can broaden the subject to include the information you’ve gathered, for example, from the company’s website.
A company that believes in solidarity, team spirit, or excellence will allow you to put all your cards on the table! You believe in it, too? That’s great! So you’re going to make the most of your ability to contribute and team up with the company.
However, you need to show what you can do and prove your commitment. Your arguments will be the proof, specific facts the recruiter will want read to then want to meet you.
Make the most of your professional qualities
The job offer specifies the desired profile and qualities. You’re going to use these to promote your future collaboration.
“You’re looking for committed employees? That’s an important value to me: I set up an association three years ago (OR I’m a trainer for a junior team)”.
“You’re looking for staff that can rise to a challenge? I’ve been swimming competitively for over 10 years and was the regional champion in 2014."
Show that you know how to put these qualities to work for you in order to make a success of your challenges!
Use the CAB method to be persuasive
It’s not easy to find just the right tone. You need to be persuasive, yet remain modest! I recommend an approach based on sales techniques – the ones that let you tell the difference between good and bad sales people! Don’t forget, you’re in the middle of doing a practical work exercise as a salesperson yourself!!
Sales methods are based on these three stages of “CAB”:
C for Characteristics of the product = the content of your CV
A for Advantages of the product = what you can bring to any company
B for Benefits = the match between the company’s needs and what you have to offer it
For example, you go to look at cars in a showroom, and the salesperson comes over:
The first scenario - He starts explaining the car’s technical characteristics to you in minute detail. This information is available on the pamphlets near the car. Hence their intervention is pointless and won't impact whether or not you want to buy.
Put yourself back into the position of a job seeker: if your cover letter only lists your technical characteristics, (education, skills, experience, etc.) it doesn’t offer the recruiter anything. He can find this information by himself in your CV, which he will have likely read before your letter.
Let’s take that same example again...
The second scenario - The salesperson approaches you and explains: “This engine will give you an extraordinary feeling of safety. You’ll be able to overtake any vehicle, as it goes from 56 to 80 in 4 seconds…” Unfortunately, you don’t like speed! You’re looking for an economical and environmentally friendly family car. You're not the right customer for this sales pitch!
The same applies when you’re looking for a job. If you go to the trouble of talking about what you can bring to the company, without first focusing on its needs, your qualities may be useless! You know how to do all these things except that the company doesn’t need them! Pity!
Still using the same example...
The third scenario - The salesperson asks about your expectations, your needs, your driving style, your commute and holiday plans. After listening to you at length, they will begin their sales pitch: “Remember, this car does 170 mpg and in your job, you’re doing over 625 miles a week – so it will allow you to save on your fuel bill! And you won’t need to fill up before the weekend anymore!” In short, the salesperson is no longer talking about the car – he’s talking about your life, daily routine, your needs, and is offering solutions to your problem!
The same goes for the company too! It’s up to you to understand its needs and highlight the solutions that you are going to bring to it. It’s the benefits you’ll bring to the company that are going to interest your potential employers! The rest doesn’t concern them.
The start of a great story?
Your cover letter should end on a note where it’s obvious that you are made to meet one another and go the extra mile together! Show the recruiter how you’ll succeed and develop together in the same direction!
You can also widen the perspectives and talk about your ambitions:
“I would be happy to move into management within a few years.”
“I would accept a position in one of the foreign subsidiaries In 3 to 5 years.”
By looking at the company’s website, you’ve been able to verify the posts being offered, the opportunities for advancement, and the company’s commitments in terms of career management for its employees. Demonstrate that you're ready to ride the company's momentum into the future.
Make the recruiter want to meet you and look further into your viewpoints and experience. When they finish reading your cover letter, they should be convinced that there are possible avenues for collaboration and that they cannot afford to miss out on you!