Aisling O'Toole is a journalist who, over the past 15 years, has edited some of Ireland's leading publications, contributed regularly to TV Aisling O'Toole is a journalist who, over the past 15 years, has edited some of Ireland's leading publications, contributed regularly to TV and radio, and occasionally the odd podcast.
Job hunting is exhausting, and it can be tempting to try and find shortcuts. However, no success comes from a lazy approach to cover letters. Like the marathon runner who takes a shortcut to cut out hours of hard work, a job seeker who sends generic cover letters to each employer is never going to win gold.
The cover letter is your first impression, and needs to pique the interest of the hiring manager enough that they want to continue reading, but also want to seek out your CV to learn more about you. It’s that important.
The ideal cover letter should be no more than one page, and should highlight your experience, your wins, and your personality in a few sentences. The CV is where you elaborate; the cover letter is where you showcase.
Tailoring a cover letter to the employer does not simply mean changing the name of the company with each application, and it will require a little bit of extra work. It may be a candidate’s market at the moment, but not all candidates are the same. And to truly stand out, follow our top four tips below.
Echo the language
Echo, don’t copy. There is a big distinction here. You want to echo the language used by the company in the job description itself without directly copying and pasting. What do they define success in the role as looking like, and how can you use that phrasing or achievement in your cover letter?
Let’s look at an example. Roblox, the digital gaming platform, is currently recruiting for a number of roles and in every single job description, it explains the company’s vision and ethos. A successful cover letter for Roblox might mention a skill that would help the company achieve its vision, or a previous win that echoes Roblox’s ethos.
You want to flatter and show that you’re the right fit, not repeat the job listing verbatim.
Don’t be shy
You have seconds to grab the attention of the hiring manager, so this is not the time to play it coy and wait until the interview process to shout about your skills and successes. Use your opening paragraph to introduce yourself in no more than four lines. This is your elevator pitch. If you had 30 seconds to run through your entire career history, what would you say? You start with the industry, you mention your tenure, you pick your top-line employers, finish with a win and state your belief in why you’re right for the role.
For example, if you were hoping to get interviewed for a role at Coupa Software, a company currently recruiting for several roles, you might start your cover letter as follows.
I am an experienced software engineer with over 20 years of experience leading cross-functional teams to achieve success across A, B, and C. During that time I have achieved 1, 2, and 3, and believe strongly that my experience and skill set would help your company achieve its five-year plan.
Find your wins
What did you do well at your last company, and what projects did you run that were successful? At the interview stage, you will have the floor to elaborate. But success at the application stage, involves distilling these achievements into sound bites which you can share with the hiring manager. A cover letter is like a sales pitch – you have a few seconds of the hiring manager’s time to make an impression and encourage them to get your CV. Don’t waste it. Instead, turn your wins into demonstrable statistics that are appropriate to the hiring company.
Cyber security company CrowdStrike is currently hiring knowledge workers. The recruiter probably won’t care that you graduated with a 1.1 from Cambridge or that you enjoy potholing and kayaking in your spare time. But they might have a little more interest in the fact that you oversaw a project in your last role that saved your company 20% year over year, or that you have an interest in fintech as demonstrated by X, Y, and Z.
By finding your wins and turning them into soundbite statistics you show that you understand how companies measure success, that you bring value to a role, and that you are an efficient and articulate communicator.
Tailor your cover letter to the company
A hiring manager is going to read tens of cover letters for any one open position. They care about what you can bring to their company, not what you did for your previous employer. As such, it makes sense to tailor your cover letter to the hiring company. Yes, it’s more work than copying and pasting a generic cover letter, but it will bring dividends.
Audible is currently recruiting for several roles, with jobs across tech, accounting, and business management. It’ll be important to highlight your experience in the relevant area in which you’re applying, but also showcase how you can help the company achieve its goals.
Do your research and see what projects the company is working on, and mention it in your cover letter for context as to why you’re mentioning a previous success. Sample wording could be, “I have experience working across client-business partnerships, previously increasing sales by X% – a skill I believe will help the company achieve its goal of…”
Immediately the hiring manager is going to recognize your commitment to going the extra mile, your ability to understand top-level problems, and your enthusiastic approach.
Now that you know how to nail the cover letter, check out the dozens of companies currently hiring across The House of Talent Job Board and find your perfect position.
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