How To Write A Cover Letter For A Job


I've just finished reviewing a few dozen CVs and Covering Letters. Almost all of them were awful!

Candidates - I beg you - make this easy for me!

I have been given a fixed set of scoring criteria and you've given me a 2,000 word essay on your life, loves, and hopes for the future. I've only got a few minutes per candidate to read, digest, rank, and score each application.

Here's my 100% guaranteed method for maximising the impact of your cover letter.

  • Address the selection criteria.

That's it. That's the tip.

Let's say the job advert says "We're looking for a team leader who can increase sales. You must be proficient with StarOffice 5.1 and Infinidash. Being fluent in a second language is desirable, but not essential."

Here's what your covering letter should say:

Dear X

[Short and polite preamble about why you're interested in the role / organisation.]

With regard to your selection criteria:

Team Leader

I currently manage a team of 7 SuperChimps. I take great pride in keeping them fed and watered. In the last 12 months none have died in the line of duty - which I believe is a testament to the way I have trained them. I set challenging but realistic targets. My 360 feedback indicates that I am a respected leader.

Increase Sales

When I worked for Universal Exports, we were only the 5th largest provider of laser watches in the world. I increased sales 117% - mostly through my ability to destabilise governments by infiltrating them with aggressive SuperChimps. My efforts helped us move to 4th largest provider.

Technical Proficiency

I am an AWS certified practitioner of Infinidash. I have led several workshops for my team of SuperChimps to help them understand the platform. I have used StarOffice 4.7 extensively to create spreadsheet reports and canteen menus.

Language Fluency

I have a GCSE in Latin and a 57 week Duolingo Streak in Klingon.

My background in team-lead sales, coupled with my technical experience means that I am well qualified to take on the role of Technical Lead in your Bananas-as-a-Service business unit.

[Polite boilerplate about looking forward to working with them etc]

There you go. You've taken the essential and desired requirements. You've written them as headings (in the same order as the advert). You've written a short paragraph which explains how you meet the criteria and quantifies where possible.

The poor sod who has to look through your cover letter will be ecstatic.

Disclaimer

Obviously this does not guarantee you will get an interview. But it significantly improves the chances of the interviewer discovering the relevant bits of your experience.

When you create a cover letter or CV or any other document - think about the reader's user experience. This isn't an exercise in writing beautiful prose in iambic pentameter. This isn't the time to stroke your own ego. You are making it easy for the reviewer to quickly see if you meet the requirements for each section.

That's it.

Imagine that you're trying to look through a page of A4 to see if the candidate even mentions their teamwork experience. Then you have to scan through again looking for sales experience. Urgh! Infuriating!

Secret Rules

I loath the idea of "secret" rules. For example, the nonsense idea that you must write a thank-you note to your interviewer. They are discriminatory practices which are designed to enforce a monoculture.

But this isn't a secret rule. Most adverts say something like: "Please supply a CV covering your work history, and a covering letter explaining your suitability."

And no one is going to junk your application just because you don't follow my advice. They'll just find it slightly harder to see why you're a good fit.

I also hate gimmicky tips like send your application in a gold envelope.

But this isn't a gimmick. It's a pragmatic way to answer the question you've been set.

I wish the recruitment industry would junk the idea of cover letters and move to structured forms. Perhaps it is slightly dehumanising to ask people to fill in a dozen little boxes. And maybe it is annoying for candidates to reformat their applications for every job. And maybe I should drop half the CVs in the bin to avoid employing unlucky people.

Either way. To improve your chances of getting an interview - and to improve my chances of retaining my sanity - please consider how you structure your cover letter.


2 thoughts on “How To Write A Cover Letter For A Job

  1. N says:

    Totally agree with this... any suggestions for when an advert lists a person specification with a dozen or more criteria, all of which are very broad and wordy...? Group them into related headings? (which doesn't feel like it's solving the reviewers' problems). Respond comprehensively, even if its multiple pages long? Pick what feels like the most important ones?

    1. @edent says:

      Usually cover letters have a word limit or page count. So I'd suggest grouping.

      But if they have hundreds of different requirements, tick off the essential ones.

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