The Cover Letter conundrum
Today, I am going to attempt to teach you how to tame a beast that has been wreaking havoc in the recruitment world. This beast leaves many a candidate dazed and confused over how they could have applied for so many jobs with no success. Yes, you guessed it, I am talking about the Cover Letter. A modern day conundrum for even the brightest of the graduate bunch.
In my first year managing recruitment processes and sifting applications, this is where I have seen a tremendous number of applicants fall down. I can only imagine the sighs of disappointment when hopes of success are shattered by that all too familiar sentence beginning with the word ‘unfortunately’. Make no mistake, I too have been there, done that, and reluctantly worn the t-shirt. So why are so many graduates stumbling at the same hurdle?
There is a serious lack of understanding surrounding the purpose and function of a cover letter. This was the case for quite a few candidates in a recruitment process that I recently managed for a client. It was a graduate position with a starting salary of £35 - £40k, frequent European travel and no previous experience required. Yes, you read that correctly. The initial application was via CV and Cover Letter submission, followed by a pre-recorded Video Interview and then a final interview with the employer. Unsurprisingly we received an overwhelming response: a grand total of 254 applications for one position.
Now, what if I told you of those 254 applications, 124 were immediately rejected due to submitting inadequate or generic cover letters, a further 3 for failing to provide a cover letter at all and one more due to including the incorrect name of the business and job title in their submission?
They say a picture paints a thousand words, so take a look at my inbox:
Roughly 85% of the 124 rejections contained the same format, the same wording and the same structure. The only difference in these cover letters was the candidate name. Not what you expected? Me neither.
Submitting an application is evidence enough that you are interested in a role, so if your cover letter is only expressing your interest and letting the reader know your CV is enclosed, or is a version of your CV in letter form, you’re selling yourself more than a little short. I had a spot of bother with cover letters when I was a student, and a wise owl gave me an easy way of understanding them. In layman’s terms, your CV is all about YOU! Your skills. Your qualifications. Your experiences. Your cover letter is all about THE EMPLOYER. Why you want to work for them specifically? How you can help them and contribute to their business.
If you’re still a tad unsure of how to tackle your cover letter, hopefully the do’s and don’t below will give a steer in the right direction.The definitely DON’Ts
- The one size fits all approach - You wouldn’t drive everywhere in second gear, would you. Don’t use the same cover letter for every job. For each application you write, make sure you tailor your cover letter not only to the sector, but to the role and the company too. If you don’t know why you’re applying… then why are you applying?
- Spray and pray – I understand the job hunt can grow tiresome and applying to multiple roles may feel like the best way to increase your chances, BUT make sure you do your research and spend time proofreading your submission before sending it off. It is very easy to spot a lazy application so believe me when I say a little effort goes a very long way.
- Visit your careers service – They’ll definitely have a CV and cover letter clinic so book an appointment to have an experienced set of eyes give you some quality feedback. Don’t worry if you have already graduated - they’ll support you too! Most university careers services offer support to their graduates for up to 3 years after graduation, and can still help via email, skype and over the phone if you can’t meet in person. Some careers services, like Lancaster University, offer careers guidance for life.
- Use online resources – The internet is a web of knowledge at your fingertips, so use it! There are countless guides and forums dedicated to help you get your cover letter right. If you prefer media over text, there are plenty of fantastic walk-throughs, like this 5 Steps to an Incredible Cover Letter video by Aimee Bateman at Careercake.com
One final note, you may find that one piece of feedback contradicts with another, causing some confusion about what you should be doing. Don’t panic! Follow your instincts and do what feels right.
Now conquer that beast, and good luck!