• Kathryn Foot

How to Write a Cover Letter that Stands Out

Cover letters are a nightmare for most of us.

You have one page to convince a recruiter of your suitability for the post. Just one page. It can’t replicate your CV and it has to make an impact on the reader. So where do you start? How many of you have started a covering letter in the past, but could not get past the opening line (Dear ….). I have written hundreds of covering letters for clients and many have been successful in getting them through to the next stage. Below are tips and techniques that I use and am more than happy to share them with you.

Firstly you need to understand the importance of a covering letter.

They enable you to demonstrate your suitability for the role. They allow you to put together a compelling case to show you meet their specific needs, that you share their values and the difference you can make. Your CV is an essential document, but a covering letter really complements this and shows the recruiter more about who you really are, how you meet their needs and your offer of value.

When writing the letter obviously you need your address and contact details – you can use your header for this to save space, and don’t forget to date it.

You also need to address the person you are writing to so get a name. Call them and ask if it has not been made clear. Show them that you have made an effort from the start. If you really can’t get a name then use terms such as Dear Recruitment Manager, avoid To Whom it May Concern or Dear Sirs, they are out-dated and boring.

Your opening paragraph needs to wow them. This will be the reason they want to read on, it is the hook that will reel them in. Below are some suggestions to help you get started.

Be Direct: What are you applying for?

Be Authentic: You want to be professional but you don’t want to sound stuffy or arrogant. You also want to sound passionate but this needs to come across as genuine. Too many people start with "I am really excited to apply for this role” yet fail to say why. Avoid big words, use simple language you are comfortable with but using terminology the recruiter understands and be natural, let your personality shine through.

Be Complementary: Why them? What is it they do that you love? What have they achieved that makes you proud?

Name Drop: Who do you know there? When did you meet them? Have they recommended you apply?

Show them who you are: Do your values align with theirs? Are you passionate about their vision – share this with them and give some evidence to provide substance – this could be a testimonial, or an achievement. Keep this brief though, you can expand in the main body.

The next paragraph(s) need to really show your suitability for the post.

  • Give quantifiable evidence. If you have won internal awards tell them what and why. If you have reduced staff turnover give figures. If you have increased funding, tell them how much and/or the percentage increase.

  • Demonstrate you understand the market they operate in.

  • Never highlight potential weaknesses. Don’t say “I have not had experience in xxxxx” say “I have transferable experience in xxxx and look forward to applying this to xxxxxx).

  • Show them that you have the knowledge, skills and experience that they ask for in the job description and/or person specification and speak in the language that they use. You need to have the job description at hand and you will need to use keywords used by the recruiter (don’t overdo this though) and be sure to provide evidence and achievements – you have to sell your benefits. Don’t say "I am organised and efficient", show them this – through an example, an achiev