When they’re advertising jobs online, not all recruiters will ask you to send a cover letter. Some will only request that you send a CV. However, once in a while you’ll come across a recruiter that demands a CV and a cover letter from you.
In this case, assuming you can be bothered to write a covering letter – which a lot of people can’t – you need to step back. When they’re actually asked for, covering letters can be very important documents. Assuming you have the right experience in your CV, they’re an important additional differentiator.
Personally, I feel that recruiters are looking for three things from cover letters. They want to know:
1. Can you do the job well?
Before you write your cover letter, you need to read the job advertisement carefully. Pay particular attention to 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 fantastical beings from Planet Banker.
Nevertheless, you must directly address the most important requirements specified in the job advertisement. Refer them specifically to your experience and to your 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?
This applies if you’re sending a covering letter to a direct employer. In this case, you need to remember that the only thing worse than going through a tedious hiring process is to go through it again in the near future.
Because of this, your covering letter must clearly convey 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 hirer 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 assault course, 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 emphasise the ability to work as part of 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 covering letter to demonstrate that you are an easy-going, low-maintenance type, either by mentioning good referees who can vouch for your character, or by highlighting personal attributes and hobbies that shed light on your general disposition.
A version of this article first appeared on our Australian website.