Article by Andrew Fennell, founder of CV writing advice website StandOut CV
To write, or not to write, that is the pressing question regarding cover letters. There’s a debate going on about if cover letters are necessary.
There are compelling arguments on both sides. This leaves the job applicant in a difficult situation. How do you know whether to write a cover letter? How do you make the right decision to bolster your application and not harm it?
Should you write a cover letter?
The place to start is with the job advert itself. Job adverts will say how they want you to apply. This may solve the problem. Simply follow the instructions, if they mention to include or exclude a cover letter.
If there is no mention of a cover letter, do not assume it’s not needed. Head to the organisation’s website, and hunt down their Careers or Jobs section. See if there is any mention about whether to include a cover letter. This is good practice anyway as it will help you to learn more about the organisation, so that you can tailor your application accordingly.
Finally, unless there is a clear instruction, on either the job advert or their website, include a cover letter.
In our experience, a cover letter can be immensely powerful, if you do it correctly. It helps your application to stand out. Done well, it’s a strategy to strengthen your application.
However, a cover letter in 2020 shouldn’t be rushed. It’s only as valuable as the care you put in to crafting it.
Cover letters in 2020
Cover letters have undergone enormous style shifts over the years. Therefore, if you write a lengthy tome that simply expands on your CV, it will not help. No recruiting manager has the time or inclination to wade through a 1990s-style essay.
Recruiting managers in 2020 see copious quantities of letters, so yours needs to focus on three key aims:
Concise cover letters
Keep your cover letter, even for the most senior positions, to well under one page of A4, with plenty of whitespace. Each and every sentence needs to be considered and relevant.
If you write a lengthy cover letter, we can almost guarantee that it is wasted effort. It simply won’t be read.
Memorable cover letters
Recruiting managers are fed up of copied and pasted cover letters that mean nothing. Instead, consider what it is about you that would make a huge difference to this role. Then back up your statement with a clear example of how you’ve demonstrated this in a previous position.
It can be helpful to think in terms of hard-skills (technical) and soft-skills (people). At this stage, focus on your hard-skills. Your soft-skills and personality should simply show through your writing style and facts. They can then be assessed further at interview.
Cover letters in 2020 cannot be generic. They must be tailored for the specific position you are applying for. This helps to keep the length down too.
Consider the specific requirements of the role, and the objectives of the organisation. Explain how you will deliver, and do so within the ethos of the company. By showing how you will add value to their organisation, you position yourself above other candidates.
This is where a cover letter can be an incredible resource, in addition to your CV. A CV may well showcase your relevant experience and achievements. The cover letter shows the potential employer how these relate to their unique circumstances. Use real life data and results where possible.
Again, don’t waste space with an ambling sign-off. Instead, keep things punchy with a clear call to action. A good example is:
“I would welcome the opportunity to discuss how I can contribute to the success of your company. Please call me on [Number].”
A cover letter shows your confidence and your interest
The risks of not including a cover letter outweigh the risks of including one, as long as you craft it in line with the above guidelines. At worst, they show your confidence and your interest in the role and the organisation. At best, they secure an eager call for interview.
About the author
Andrew Fennell is the founder of CV writing advice website StandOut CV – he is a former recruitment consultant and contributes careers advice to websites like Business Insider, The Guardian and FastCompany.