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Step by Step Guide to Writing a Cover Letter

By Kinexus on 16 August 2016

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So you’ve found the job you want to apply for and you don’t want to submit just any old application. You care about putting your best foot forward and getting in front of the hiring manager.

You have already tweaked and tailored your resume – it’s ready to go, but you’re stuck on that cover letter. So where do you even start?

Cover letters are never easy to write, you don’t want to repeat your resume and it’s often awkward having a personal brag, so here is my 10 step guide to writing a great cover letter.

What you’ll need:

  1. Job description
  2. Computer with access to the company’s website
  3. Your resume
  4. A fresh word/pages document etc or notepad for those (like me) who prefer to draft by hand
  5. Between 30-60mins
  6. Cup of tea/coffee
  7. A clear head and a can-do attitude

STEP 1: Do Some Research
Start by jumping onto the company website, Google, LinkedIn page and Glassdoor profile. Get a feel for who they are, company culture, what they do, and their language. Get some info on the company history and even mission statement. You may want to weave some facts into your cover letter. Get inspired and get into their world.

STEP 2: Break Apart the Job Description
Put a big line down the centre of your page (like a pros and cons list) and start on the left-hand side. Thoroughly read over the job description and write a list of all the skills required – both those listed and those implied. Are there any intangible skills you think they want but are not listing? If a certain skill is repeated, give it a big underline – it’s clearly a priority.

STEP 3: Form a Counter Attack
On the other side of the page try to match the skills they require with skills you actually have. What experiences, achievements, and capabilities do you have that demonstrate the particular skills required. It’s ok if they are just dot points for now, you’ll hash it out more in the next step.

STEP 4: Pick Your Two Biggest Selling Points
What you have to do now is identify your USP (Unique Selling Point) and what will set you apart. Choose two of the above skills/achievements that you believe are your biggest selling points. Picking achievements that have supporting figures (eg. saved company $$$ by implementing new system etc.) or qualifications you have lots of experience in (eg. over eight years of management experience) are even better. If you don’t have any of those or you’re stuck, choose experiences that prove you meet the key desirables of the job description.

STEP 5: Put Pen to Paper
Now that it’s time to start the actual letter, don’t worry about an opening sentence, just write one short paragraph on each of the two USP’s you highlighted in Step 4. Articulate the achievements, quantify them with a number if possible and make sure you relate it back to the role at hand – how will you use your amazing skills within their organization?

STEP 6: Mix and Match
Now that you have two paragraphs covered, your final paragraph should be a bit of a mix and match. Choose 1-3 skills you want to make sure the recruiter or hiring manager knows about or select ones you feel they are specifically asking for in the job description. Keep this paragraph brief and fluid.

STEP 7: Open with a Bang
Go back to the beginning and think about what you want your first impression to be. This first paragraph is where you need to grab their attention.

Firstly, using boring, repetitive resume talk doesn’t engage the reader and please don’t start with “I am writing to…” or “Please accept my application for…”, it’s clear that you are applying for a role and these overused terms will get your application in the bin before they even reach your qualifications.

Secondly, using enthusiasm in your opening paragraph always sets a good scene. Other than that, some guidelines for your opener are:

  • Lead with success. What is amazing about what you’ve done recently that this company needs?
  • How do you fit the role better than anyone else?
  • Why are you the best fit for the company?
  • Do you have the experience and the strengths this job needs? Why?

Glassdoor and The Muse have some good examples to inspire you if you get stuck.

STEP 8: Wrap it Up
Tie it all together and finish your letter strong, professionally and quickly. Eg. Why your experience and world-view make you the perfect fit. Then include your personal email and mobile at the bottom.
Tip: Try to match their tone here. A young laid back company needs something different than a high-level professional company.

STEP 9: Proof read
If like me, the words start to mesh together after a while, it’s best to put the document down, do something else and come back to proofread with fresh eyes. You may want to restructure and cull a little too – less is often more and a good rule is to keep your letter to ½ – 1 page tops. Read everything word for word, double check spelling, grammar and punctuation – don’t just rely on spell check. I always get two other people to proofread any important documents for peace of mind so you might want to call in some backup too.

STEP 10: Ready Aim Fire
The hard part is over! Now you need to make sure it gets into the hands of the right person. Go back to the company website and LinkedIn to find the contact name and email address of the hiring manager. Perhaps ask for an introduction on LinkedIn, use a mutual contact to reach out or even give the company a call to get their details. If you can’t find those, skip the ‘to whom it may concern’ and address it to nobody.

Put your cover letter as the email body, but also attach it along with your resume in PDF (or their requested format) and send it all off.

You may wish to follow up in a day or two, but you can hold your head high knowing you gave your application your best effort!

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