A cover letter is a letter or email that is often included with a CV when someone applies to a new job. While a CV is a somewhat dense, often 2-page long document filled with lots of specific details and accomplishments, the cover letter acts as the overview and allows an individual to get their point across more easily.The covering letter in other words is what will be read right away and will help employers decide which pile your CV goes in. This is your one chance to shine, so it’s crucial you get it right.
Writing a Great Covering Letter
Don’t be Over-Long
Remember, the whole point of the cover letter is to be punchy. Don’t make your cover letter 10,000 words or the employer may as well just read your CV! You can always just say ‘see CV’. One page is absolutely fine.
What’s important is that you show specifically why you’re a good fit for the role. The background, the grades and all that don’t matter here – just tell the reader why you are perfect for this job and the very bare minimum about that.
That means: directly relevant experience, why you are passionate for the idea, any MAJOR accomplishments on your resume you’d like to draw attention to.
When applying for new jobs, you’re likely going to send out tens of applications before you get a positive response. Possibly even hundreds. This can be very disheartening and especially when you consider that each one might require a new resume, a new application, new covering letter… every application involves hours of work.
But there’s a way to make this process let draining and more rewarding. The solution is to think ahead by being efficient with your writing. It also means keeping a database of responses to common questions and phrases that you use in different cover letters so that you can reuse that copy too.
Speaking of efficiency, here are some boxes you need to tick:
- Who you are
- How you found the position
- Why you are interested
- Why you are perfect for the Job
Consider How it Complements Your CV
A covering letter does not exist in a vacuum. It accompanies your CV. You need to keep this in mind when writing out your cover letter. How you do this is also important.
How to Write a Great CV
Writing a CV is something that no one likes doing. Naturally we are brought up to be modest and to be meek and not to brag about our selling points, but of course when it comes to writing a CV we’re called upon to do exactly those things. At the same time it also mean remembering lots of dry facts about jobs you probably never liked and stressing about gaps when you weren’t doing anything.
Keep it Updated Often
Whether or not you are writing your CV right now, now is certainly the time to act and you should plan ahead to make writing your CV easier in the future. As you work you are likely to encounter many different things that would make perfect fodder for your CV whether those are team building events or challenges you’ve faced in the workplace.
The problem of course is remembering them all when it comes to writing your CV. So to make it really great, add to it as and when those great things happen so that you have all the most impressive and relevant information at the drop of a hat – or at least keep a note somewhere of these things.
Write Specific CVs
Your CV should be tailored to the job you want, and you can make anything sound relevant to anything if you know how to spin a little, and there will have been aspects of your previous jobs that will be more relevant to future jobs. You should ensure then to tailor your CV for the job, so that you are focusing on the elements that those employers will be the most impressed with. Then on top of this you should also have a ‘standard one’ which you can send in when you don’t know much about the business.
Get into the Nuts and Bolts
When you write about your jobs, don’t just write what you did - break it down and write about how you contributed, what you learned, why it’s relevant and what you took for it. Everything that happens to you is a fantastic learning opportunity, it’s just a matter of knowing how to sell it as such and acknowledging that fact.
Meanwhile remember the things that employers love to hear – words like
- ‘initiative’ etc.
How does your experience relate to those terms? Part of your challenge as well is simply demonstrating that you understood how your company worked, and that you have a good nose for business.
Remember, the people reading your CV will have to work with you, and for that reason they are going to want someone who’s pleasant to be around and who is interesting and fun. You need to be that guy (or girl) so let your personality come across a little and try to make your personality unique and interesting so that people will at least remember it.
How to Take Your Job to the Executive Level
While the above tips will help you to write a CV and cover letter to use in conjunction when applying for any new job, the next question is how you climb the ladder. How can you go from doing what you’re doing currently, to becoming an executive within your own organization (or by changing role or organization?).
Very often, it is possible to organize careers and jobs into tiers. At the ‘bottom’ tier, you have the customer facing jobs and services. These are the jobs that generally involve being told what to do by either a manager or directly by a client. It’s not to say that these jobs are in any way less worthy than jobs in ‘higher’ tiers, but simply that this places you at the bottom of the ‘food chain’ as it were.
At the next rung, you have middle management roles. You might be a team leader, an area manager or otherwise someone who has a limited amount of power and responsibility. Often these are somewhat stressful positions, as they give you enough responsibility to get into trouble but not necessarily enough power to make sure things go to plan. With great power comes great responsibility but the opposite is not always true!
You no longer have to face
- juggle deadlines
- or deal with petty complaints
you are instead steering the ship and focussing on the bigger picture while people beneath you deal with the day-to-day stuff. There’s more responsibility here, sure. But actually, the work load is usually significantly less. Not only that, but your salary, office and perks will reflect that increased responsibility.
And you don’t need to wait until you’re in your 60s to get here. Sit around waiting for your current boss to leave or to recommend you for a promotion means wasting years of your life. If you want to fast-track your way to the top, then you need to move vertically and horizontally.
1 Again - Keep your resume up-to-date and specific
If you’re planning on making a move, then you need to ensure that your resume is up-to-date and specific to the industry you’re in. You may even have several resumes to fit multiple potential job roles.
We already touched on this once, but it pays to always have your resume up-to-date. The same goes for your LinkedIn – you never know when you might be head-hunted!
This should be primed and ready to go. If you haven’t updated yours with your most recent accomplishments and qualifications, then you might be missing out on opportunities. Beyond keeping your resume up-to-date, you also need to avoid some common errors that I see all too often:
- Not keeping contact information up-to-date
- Using different font sizes and colors (yep, people do this!)
- Using hard to read fonts
- Not spacing the content out enough. Putting off readers with a ‘wall of text’.
- Using colorful and ‘creative’ templates – this isn’t a school art project!
Many of these mistakes are born from the persistent myth that your resume must be one page long. This might be true for smaller roles but at higher experience levels, it is desirable and necessary to give yourself more space.
2 Use long-term thinking
Whether it’s losing weight, getting a dream job or making money, too many people want to see results right away. They use ‘short-term thinking’, meaning that they’re focussed purely on trying to see immediate progress.
Thus, they might go for jobs that are currently out of their league and potentially ignore opportunities that they view as beneath them or that seem to involve too much work with no tangible, immediate reward. If you’ve ever turned down a training course, then you might be guilty of the same.
3 Act Like the Job You Want
While I’m not going to go into the controversial law of attraction and all that here, there is definitely some truth in the notion that you should dress for the job you want. Moreover, you should also act as though you already have the job you want.
If you want to be considered for higher management, then act as though you’re already in that role. Be responsible, take on more responsibility where possible and stay late.
Even if you’re working from the bottom – do your best work and act like a consummate professional. Working in customer service? Then smile. Don’t be petty. Do your best. You never know who is watching and it will certainly help your references.