When it comes to job hunting, there’s nothing like making a strong first impression. That’s where a good cover letter comes in.
Presenting a well-crafted cover letter to a potential employer is your opportunity to highlight your skills, achievements, and experience in your own voice. But what do today’s employers really want to see on your cover letter? Here’s what you need to know.
1. Your interest in the position
One of the first things that recruiters want to know is the reason you’re drawn to the specific position. A recent survey about cover letters found that 41% of hiring managers feel the introduction is the part of the cover letter that leaves the biggest impression.
So, instead of starting your cover letter off with the typical opening including your name and where you saw the position advertised, create a hook that will grab the hiring manager’s attention. This creative opening should capture their attention so that you can lay into exactly why you’re interested in the job and the company.
Do a little research on the company and express why this is the one for you. Whether it's the company’s ethos, approach to business, or the products they create, step away from the cover letter template and get specific here. Employers want to see that you have a genuine interest in the role because it lets them know you’ll be a motivated employee.
It’s okay to use a cover letter template to help you lay out the bones of your cover letter, but each one that you write should have information that conveys specific interest in the role available at each company you apply to.
2. Context for your application
The next thing you should include in your cover letter is why you’re applying for the job. This is where your cover letter should really complement your CV. While you write a professional CV to show employers your qualifications, the purpose of a cover letter is to give employers more insight into who you are as a professional. It’s your chance to explain the context for your application.
For example, maybe you’re looking for the chance to cultivate new skills, or maybe you want to change careers completely. Along those lines, talk about your career goals and what you’re hoping to achieve by working in this new role and company. If you’re writing a student or recent graduate cover letter, you can use the cover letter to explain why and how this position aligns with your career goals.
If you have any gaps in your employment history, your cover letter gives you a good opportunity to explain them. Perhaps your career path has changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, or you’re looking to return to the workforce after being a stay-at-home parent. Whatever the case is, use your cover letter to explain why you’re submitting your application and CV for consideration.
3. What makes you the right candidate
Next, highlight why you’re the best person to fill this role. Talk about your education, skills, or any relevant training that has uniquely prepared you for this position, in addition to any credentials or certifications.
Besides these essentials, this is also a good spot in your cover letter to mention why you think that you’re a good fit for the company culture.
If you’re applying for work in a newsroom, for example, employers will be more likely to view you as a contender if you can demonstrate that you thrive in fast-paced environments. Similarly, if your values align with the company’s (on matters such as DEI, or a commitment to climate justice), they’ll know you’re likely to stick around and make a meaningful contribution to the company.
It’s important to get across what it is that sets you apart from the rest of the crowd and why it’s worth the hiring manager’s time to offer you an interview.
4. Your professional achievements
Your cover letter also gives you the opportunity to highlight your achievements in your education and career so far. Mentioning these milestones, backed by hard numbers, shows potential employers what you’ve really accomplished when it comes to professional goals and performance.
If you’re just starting out in the professional world, mention academic achievements or extracurricular activities that you’re especially proud of. If you’ve been in the workforce for a while, talk about achievements with specific numbers or examples, as your CV will already have descriptions of past roles or projects.
5. That you’re targeting the specific job
As previously mentioned, it’s okay to use a template as your basic outline when writing cover letters for potential jobs. But each cover letter you send out should have essential details showing that you’re interested in a specific company and role.
When crafting a cover letter, address it to the hiring manager if you know their name. Include information like the name of the company and the specific title of the role you’re hoping to secure to show that you took the time to create a cover letter for this particular position rather than sending out a generic letter.
Your cover letter is an opportunity to show employers that you’ve done your research and you're focused on this position, so don’t waste it.
The bottom line
A well-written cover letter should feel customised to the company you’re sending it to and personalised for the role you’re looking to fulfil. Let the hiring manager know why you’re the top candidate for the position using specific numbers to back up your claim and reinforce your value.
The real difference between a good cover letter and a great one is the level of effort and detail you put into targeting each role. Take the time to really impress the hiring manager in your cover letter to increase your chances of landing an interview.