If you are making the effort to spend hours searching for a job online or in the press without any success but don't spend any time on introducing yourself effectively, you may be wasting your time. The unemployment rate in South Africa is over 26% at the moment, and even higher for people under the age of 34. To improve your chances of landing a position, an effective cover letter is essential. Let's take a look at how to write a cover letter that may actually help you land that position you are interested in.
Do your research
While some of the advertisements you apply to will be through a recruitment firm and you may not have the information on the company that would be employing you, for many other job adverts, you are given the information in the advertisement. As far as possible, try and get the name of the company you would be interviewing for and research what they do. Look at their website, LinkedIn profile and any other information you can find on the company. This allows you to detail how you would fit in and what benefit you can offer the business. See if you can figure out the culture of the company and structure your letter accordingly. Keep it formal for businesses such as financial institutions or be a little more creative if applying to a design company. If possible, address the letter to a specific person, by name as opposed to “to whom it may concern”. If you are not able to obtain this information, don't address it at all in the greeting phase of the letter. Just make sure you have the company details correct, give a heading of the job and any required reference numbers. Then skip straight in to the body of the letter.
Make the cover letter your front page
Don't send your cover letter and CV as 2 separate attachments as it is a lot less likely to be opened if sent this way. Send the cover letter as the first page of your CV, so it is sent as one attachment and is the first page seen by the recruiter. Your cover letter is there for you to put your best foot forward, so try and not have the opportunity wasted by no one actually getting to see it.
Make sure the cover letter matches the job
Each cover letter should be for a specific job. Do not send out standard cover letters to everyone. In your cover letter, you can detail why you are the best person for the job and add in information that may not appear in your CV. Stress why you want to work for the company and what you are offering in return. This is the chance to sell yourself. Keep it factual and note your qualifications and experience without going in to massive amounts of detail. Add in keywords gleaned from the advert as well if possible to help bypass scanning software and to improve interest from recruiters who glance through the cover letter looking for specific words.
Start and end well
Your heading should detail the position applied for and any relevant coding required. In your actual letter, you do not have to identify yourself or the position you are applying to again as this is redundant information that you have already listed elsewhere. Start you letter with a sentence to grab the hiring manager's attention. Avoid using humour as not everyone will get it and it may detract from the letter or give an impression other than what you are going for. Start with something that is a fairly impressive achievement or something that you bring to the table that makes you unique. Avoid clichés and platitudes. The first sentence of your cover letter can make or break your entire proposal, so make it strong and effective. Don't just rehash your CV in the cover letter. Give information that makes them want to read your CV and add in information they won't find in the CV as well. If you must list your experiences and achievements, put them in bullet point format and keep the list as short as possible. Keep the cover letter to under 500 words and end strong, perhaps with a nod to the company's ethics or code of conduct or something similar, showing that you have noted how they operate and you will fit in to the company culture.
The body of your cover letter
While you do have to sell yourself in your cover letter, making statements without any back-up can sound egotistical and self-aggrandizing. The hiring manager isn't interested if your friend's think you are a great person or that you think you are perfect for the position. You need to back up your statements with evidence. Take the key requirements from the position offered and detail how your qualifications and experience help you meet these requirements. Don't be afraid to detail specific accomplishments that might make you valuable to the hiring company. If possible, note how you can help the company achieve it's goals and assist in meeting some of the challenges they may be facing or might face in the future. Show that you are a problem solver and not afraid to use your initiative in your cover letter and it is more likely that the recruitment team will be interested in what you have to offer. If you cannot find something specific to write about the particular company, show that you have knowledge of the industry and it's challenges instead. You can add in personal experience of how you faced similar challenges in the past or other relevant accomplishments.
Not sending a cover letter shows a lack of interest or even laziness on the part of the applicant. Knowing that this is the first opportunity you have to present yourself in a good light, it only makes sense to send a cover letter whenever possible so that the recruitment team gets a good impression right from the get go. A cover letter might also get you to the next step even if your CV might not have everything they were looking for. Although generally only half of the cover letters get read, this is a 50% chance to present yourself and your unique talents and skills. Don't waste the opportunity.