This post is a little delayed, considering how I should’ve written and posted this earlier in the week. But, oh well, better late than never, right?
So, previously I’ve shared some tips for your resumes. Today, we’ll look at the cover letter and think about some dos and don’ts for this important document in your job search.
First off – what is a cover letter?
A cover letter, or a motivation letter, is something that accompanies your resume that you send when you are applying for a job (or an internship). While your resume is a more in-depth overview of your past experiences and skills, your cover letter is written specifically for the job you are applying for. Therefore, it is much more niche in that it is highlighting your best skills for the role itself.
But why do you need one, though?
Your cover letter can show more than just your skills and experiences to the potential employer. From the way you write, an employer can have an insight into your personality and your values. It is also an opportunity for you to really show the employer why you are applying for the job and what you have to offer.
When do I actually need to use a cover letter?
Ideally, you would want to include a cover letter in all your job applications. Understandably, in some cases, you may not be able to attach an additional document to your application (such as when you’re applying via job platforms like Jobstreet).
But that’s okay. For any other applications that you send outside of general job platforms, you would want to include a cover letter. This includes sending your application via email, through the company’s own job portal, or via LinkedIn.
OK, I get it. Where should I start?
Well, for one, there is a lot of free cover letter examples out there that you can refer to. However, I would caution you against copy-pasting a template 100% and sending that to a company. As much as possible, you do want to tailor and make it specific to the role and company that you are applying to.
Important things to include in a cover letter include:
- Your details (phone number, email, address)
- The role/position that you are applying to
- Why you’re suitable for the role/job
- What you can offer to the company
- Next steps (or closing statements, including thanks!)
Tip #1: Before you start writing, revisit the job description.
If you don’t know what to include or which experiences to include, the best solution is to refer to the job description. Take a look at the requirements listed in the advertisement and really understand what they are looking for.
You can then compare their requirements with your own experiences and highlight some of your strongest skills relevant to the role. These are the examples that you want to really focus on in your cover letter – to really show to the employer that “Yes, I am the right person for this job because of XYZ.“
Doing this will also prevent you from falling into the trap of repeating everything from your resume. This is something that I see a lot from all the reviews that I have done in the past year. Some people will literally just take a few bullet points from their resume, throw in some connecting words, and voila, that’s a paragraph or two in their cover letter.
In reality, your cover letter should not repeat the same things that are already in your resume. Instead, it should highlight and elaborate more on some relevant experiences and invite the employer to read your full resume.
Tip #2: Make it short and concise.
A cover letter should be between half to a full page of an A4 (or letter-sized) page, nothing more. This is where you really need to focus on what you want the employer to know about you. They do not need a full life story, nor do they need to know everything about your educational background.
Some mistakes I’ve seen people make include:
- Explaining every little detail about their studies, from SPM to pre-university to their degree.
- Writing a full two-page cover letter.
- Explaining in a whole paragraph the reasons they apply for something different from their background/studies.
Remember, employers and hiring managers don’t really have time to go through it, so focus on the important bits – your skills and what you can bring to the company.
Tip #3: Check, check, and check for mistakes!
Your cover letter is the first opportunity for you to make a good first impression, so you can never go wrong with triple or quadruple checking it for mistakes. This includes things like:
- The hiring manager/recruiter’s name
- The company’s name and the job title
- Grammar or spelling errors
- Sentence structures and phrases.
- Your details (email/phone number)
One common mistake that I see Malaysian graduates write is writing phrases like:
- I will be graduated from University ABC…
- I am graduate with a degree in XYZ…
One easy way to ensure that your cover letter is free from these errors is to use Grammarly. One thing that I like about Grammarly is that it can also tell you the tone of your writing, so you can ensure that you are writing formally and professionally.
(fun fact, Grammarly is saying that this blog post sounds friendly – do you agree?)
Tip #4: Don’t make it all about YOU.
Yes, a cover letter should highlight your best skills and answer the “Why should we hire you?” question. But it should not be just about you and what you want.
Some people may write, “I am applying for this job because it will allow me to grow and develop my career further,” which is technically not wrong. It just feels like you come off as a little selfish because you focus on what you want to get out of the opportunity.
In reality, it is a two-way street. At the end of the day, the company needs to find someone who can join them and contribute something to the company. You also want to show them what you can bring to the company to help them in their business. Think about what you can offer – this may be in terms of your skills or experiences that other people don’t have. You may even have something extra that can bring value to the team and company.
Tip #5: Use different cover letters for different job applications.
It may be super tempting to use the same cover letter to apply to all jobs. However, if you follow Tip #1, you’ll realize that different jobs will have different requirements and criteria. Because of this, you will need to customize your cover letter for each application to showcase your best strengths for each of them
But, fret not. This does not mean that you can’t reuse some of the phrases or contents from previous cover letters. There will be things that stay the same across all of your cover letters, which is fine. Just make sure you are making that connection between your skills and experiences to the company’s needs and requirements.
All the best in writing your cover letters!
Be sure to check out the #FreshGrad101 series to read more tips on job searching and employability.
And, if you’re interested to learn more, join me in February during my Career Workshop series for only RM5/session or RM30/package (7 sessions). You can see the schedule below and get more information on the registration form.
Alright, that should be all for now. Until I see you in the next post, stay safe, take care, and stay awesome everyone! 🙂