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 reuse 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 customize them more easily and quickly.
But be careful to personalize your understanding of the recruiter's needs 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 and 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 following 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 position.
You have assets and qualities to fit into the company and team, as well as with their customers and partners.
Let's take 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 personalize their application and may not have a genuine interest in the job! This shows a lack of personal investment and 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 in the issues they face. You also want to show that you know the business sector and company you are applying for.
Before writing your letter, find a position that interests you, analyze the job posting, underline the keywords and explore the company’s website. You’ll be ready to reuse 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 you are applying to.
Be careful! You don’t want to tell the recruiter what they already know. 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 putting increasing importance 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’s vital that they align with 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 that 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, its main projects, 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 specializing in the company's business sector. If it's a very large company, then taking an interest in economy 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
any ongoing crises
Not only will this help you craft a relevant, original tagline, but at the same time you are providing evidence of your:
ability to investigate and analyze
values and 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, rephrase 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 position 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!
This proactive approach to find out about the company’s activities and its prospects is particularly crucial 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 to it and what you admire in their projects or mission(s). Catch the recruiter’s attention with 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 are you 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 position. A letter explaining everything you would find interesting and beneficial about working in the company may end up in the trash.
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 successfully completed projects. You can also explain why you like the field so much. Illustrate each of your skills in relation to the position, 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!
This way, the employer will be able to form a good idea of your talents and your potential.
Consolidate Your Résumé
If you have any gaps in your résumé—for example, a period where you traveled extensively or decided to devote yourself to personal projects or raise your children—you can take advantage of these to explain in which ways those experiences have contributed to your professional development. 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 more nuanced and highly-skilled applicant than all the others, precisely because these experiences have shown you how to make choices, see your commitments right through to the end and grow.
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 how 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.
How Do Your Values Align?
The values outlined by the company often go hand-in-hand with the qualities desired for the position. 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! Do you believe in all that too? That’s great! That will allow you to fully contribute to the company’s mission. You’ll need to show what you can do and prove your commitment with concrete examples in the interview.
Make the Most of Your Professional Qualities
The job posting specifies the desired profile and qualities. You should mirror this language in both your cover letter and in your interview.
“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 salespeople! Don’t forget, you’re currently in the business of selling yourself!
Sales methods are based on these three stages of CAB:
C for Characteristics = the content of your résumé
A for Advantages = what you can bring to any company
B for Benefits = the match between the company’s needs and what you have to offer
For example, you go to look at cars in a showroom, and the salesperson comes over.
Scenario 1: They start explaining the car’s technical characteristics to you in minute detail. This information is available on the pamphlets near the car. 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. They can find this information in your résumé, which they will have likely read before your letter.
Let’s take that same example again...
Scenario 2: The salesperson approaches you and explains, “This engine is incredibly powerful. It goes from 0 to 60 in four seconds.” Unfortunately, you’re not looking for speed—you’re in the market 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, none of which are useful to the company. No one wins here!
Still using the same example...
Scenario 3: The salesperson asks what you’re looking for, inquires about your needs, driving style, commute and travel plans. After listening to you at length, they begin their sales pitch with “This car does 170 mpg. You’re driving over 625 miles a week for work, so it will allow you to save on gas! And you won’t need to fill up before the weekend anymore!” In short, the salesperson is no longer talking about just the car: they’re taking into account your life circumstances, daily routine and needs and offering solutions!
The same goes for companies! It’s up to you to understand their needs and highlight the solutions that you can bring. It's the benefits you’ll bring to the company that are going to interest potential employers.
The Start of a Beautiful Adventure?
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!
By looking at the company’s website, you’ve been able to check out open positions, opportunities for advancement and the company’s ongoing projects, mission(s) and values. 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 experience and what you can bring to the company. When they finish reading your cover letter, they should be convinced that there are possible avenues for collaboration and that they can’t afford to miss out on you!