Pete Gwilliam is director of Virtus Search
Whether you are applying for jobs or speculatively introducing yourself to an employer that interests you, a cover letter can be the determining factor in whether you get a positive response.
Communication and influencing skills, intelligence, and enthusiasm for being valuable and contributing to success are all elements that a cover letter can express in a way that a CV cannot.
A cover letter should go beyond your basic work history to highlight how you have performed in your career and why you are interested in the business.
Consider an introductory letter to be how you might explain to a colleague why you are excited about a firm or job, and importantly – in a conversational tone – why you think you’d be successful there.
It is not about simply asserting that you’d be great at the job, or proclaiming that you’re a great communicator, but more about demonstrating where your accomplishments and experiences show your qualities. The more compelling and interesting this is, the better, and it is certainly worth avoiding self-proclamations such as, “I’m the best candidate for this job.”
A letter allows anything unusual or confusing about your candidacy to be addressed, and is the chance to provide context for things that otherwise might seem confusing – or less than ideal – to a hiring manager.
For example, if you are overqualified for the position but are excited about it anyway, or if you’re a bit underqualified but still think you could excel at the job, address that up front.
Or if all of your experience is in a different field but you’re actively working to move into this one, talk about why – and explain how your experience will translate.
If you don’t provide that kind of context, you allow the reader to draw their own conclusions.
For example, if you are overqualified for the position, make a point of acknowledging it and explaining why you’re interested in the job, why you have taken the decision to take a ‘step back’, and how your additional experience could prove invaluable.
If you are currently living in a different part of the country from where the position is located, confirming that you are moving to the area and that you view them as an employer of choice is likely to minimise any issues with location.
If all your experience is in a different part of the industry, but you are actively working to transition into an alternative area, explain why that is your plan and what steps you have taken to begin such a transition.
Whether through training, job shadowing, or via the pursuit of qualifications – or ideally from a combination of all of these – it is important to be clear that you are proactively invested in the transition and are not simply talking about the prospect of it.
If hiring managers have too many unanswered questions about your candidacy, it is sometimes easier just to move on to a different candidate.
Addressing any likely concerns right up front in your cover letter will allow you to be evaluated on your merits, and not just assessed based on a set of circumstances that might be read without any context.
There is no doubt that a good cover letter should be personalised to the firm and the job in question. If the firm has stated corporate values, this will give you a good indication of the type of culture. Clearly, an introductory letter allows you to suggest why you think you would be a good cultural fit.
If you understand what a business cares about, it is important to show how that overlaps with your own career experience and values.
Likewise, conveying respect for the company, its brand and the employees that you know helps make your interest in a role very authentic.
Ultimately, the essence of any introductory message is to show that you believe becoming a part of the company is potentially a good move and a good fit. In support of that assertion, you must clearly indicate why you think they should have an interest in you.