An advertisement that asks for a resume is likely to trigger a flood of them before it even finishes spelling out the job description. A request for a cover letter, however, will probably result in the recruiter staring at an empty inbox for several weeks or, worse still, receiving the same flood of resumes, only this time with short bios copied straight from social networking profiles into the e-mails.
For those serious about applying for jobs that ask for a cover letter, here are three key questions that you must succinctly address in the letter:
1. Can you do the job well?
The most crucial task before you write a cover letter is to read the job advertisement carefully, particularly the bit that begins with something like: “To be considered for the role, you must demonstrate the following…”
Admittedly, many HR managers go to town with this and require attributes that can only be met by those from the Renaissance age. Nevertheless, you must directly address the most important requirements by reference to your experience and measurable achievements. The whole aim is to show the employer that you can hit the ground running on day one without too much hand-holding from the immediate superior.
2. Will you love doing the job?
For an employer, the one thing worse than going through a tedious hiring process is to go through it again in the near future. It is important that the covering letter clearly conveys the message that you will love doing the role, either because it is one of your passions (good luck to those in audit or compliance) or because you want to move up the career ladder (good luck to those in investment banking).
The bottom line is that the cover letter must persuade the recruiter that you are not just applying for the job to pay the mortgage, but that you will be in it for the long haul. If your work history resembles a kangaroo-hopping exercise, you will obviously need to use some serious creativity to convince the recruiter that you won’t be bouncing out the door the moment you find another similar vacancy.
3. Are you easy to get along with?
There is rarely a job advertisement that doesn’t emphasize the ability to work as part of a team. While this can come across as wishy-washy, what hiring managers really mean is that they want a person who they can stand working with for several hours a day, without resorting to books like "How to Deal with Neurotic Employees" or "How to Manage Temperamental Talents."
Use the cover letter to demonstrate that you are an easy-going, low-maintenance type, either by mentioning good references who can vouch for your character, or by highlighting personal attributes and hobbies that shed light on your general disposition.
When faced with writing a covering letter, you should embrace the opportunity to provide answers to the above three questions, particularly because many other candidates will be repelled by the thought of writing proper paragraphs. Keep it succinct and to the point, and watch your chances of securing that first interview increase dramatically.
Blue Horseshoe is a financial professional in Australia.