at Himalayan College of Engineering Kathmandu, Nepal
Dr Pauldy Otermans
Chair & Principal, Otermans Institute
Lecturer (Education), Brunel University London
Deputy Chair GU, University of Cambridge
Now that you have finalised your CV using our previous free training, it is time to write a cover letter for that job you are applying to get. Cover letters are your mouth piece while the CV acts as your facts sheet for your prospective employer.
Pretty much the same guidelines apply here; you have to convince the reader that you are the right candidate for the job. The cover letter is the start of a relationship with the employer and should not be taken lightly. Although it is perceived that the cover letter is usually read prior to reading your CV by the employer, no such concrete evidence exists and hence you should be able to hook them onto your profile using either document (See ‘the Hook’ section in our CV writing lesson). After all, as they say, your first impression is your last impression.
Otermans Institute recommends that the starting point for writing your cover letter should stem from your reading and understanding of the job description provided with the job advertisement. Here, you will find what the employer is looking for which often includes a certain degree qualification, some related experience and an exhaustive list of skills and abilities. It is your job to cover all of these points in your cover letter, hence the name of the document!
A cover letter is usually no longer than 1 page and Otermans Institute strictly suggests a maximum of two A4 pages. Just like a CV, a cover letter also has a structure which normally consists of the following types of paragraphs.
Before you start with the body of your cover letter, you need to use an appropriate salutation to start and address the recipient. Often, the person to which the letter needs to be addressed to is written in the job description. If not, you can always contact the company using the contact details provided in the job description, to ask this information. Getting this wrong can be perceived as being rude and certainly shows your lack of interest to conduct even the most basic research on the company and the job you are applying for. So don't overlook it.
Also include a date and have a subject line covering the role you are applying for before beginning your cover letter.
Subject: application for the role of Lecturer in Cognition at University College Oxford.
You will start with an introduction. Here, you explain why you are applying for this job, your drive, your motivation. You need to make it really clear here what your passion is and how it can benefit the company if they hire you. You will highlight your degree and your most relevant experience that is significant for the job you are applying to. You need to hook the reader here to encourage them to keep on reading and wanting to know more about you. This is all about selling yourself!
Then you move on to express why you want to work for this particular organisation or business. You tell them what got you interested in this company and why. You also use this section to showcase that you have done your research on the company.
Next, you have to explain in-depth why you should be selected; what can you offer to the company and why are you the best candidate for the job? Otermans Institute suggests that an easy method of doing this is by explaining your relevant academic and work experience. This is similar to your CV, but now you will pick 3-5 specific points from your CV and describe them in-depth to project their relevance to the current job.
You have to show these, not tell. This means that you need to provide examples of these points; evidence of what is written on your CV. In other words, you will be expanding on your CV by matching your experiences and specific skills to the job requirements. You can refer to an example of a cover letter I had written years ago just after completing my PhD provided at the end of this lesson.
You move on by highlighting particular strengths you have gained through your experience. This supports the facts mentioned on your CV in a more communicative manner. An optional input here can be to address gaps in your CV. This shows authenticity, honesty and your will to learn and up-skill yourself; essential skills looked for by employers. Remember however to always be positive here and do not let these gaps dominate your letter. So, approach with care!
Finally, you close. It is important to finish your letter on a high and positive note. Keep it inspirational and emotionally charged. For instance, talk about your passion for the role and your excitement to use your work experience to enhance and strengthen the company. Back this up by listing the most important points highlighted in your letter that project your suitability for the job. You can see an example here taken from my old cover letter:
Otermans Institute also advises you to include practical details here like your availability for the interview if dates are mentioned in the job description.
Remember, this is a professional letter, so you can’t close with 'kind regards', 'best wishes', or any other semi-formal tone. Instead use ‘Yours sincerely’ if the letter is addressed to a named individual and use ‘Yours faithfully’ if addressed to the institution or company.
Self: Write two different cover letters and do not look at them for one whole day. The next day read them carefully and correct them sincerely to self-analyse areas of improvement and internalise the reasons and meaning behind the structure and words used.
Family: Share your corrected work with a member of your family or someone who you are currently living with in the ‘lock down’. Ask them to give you constructive criticism on your work. This will not only bring in a third person’s perspective, as it is what the reader understands and comprehends which is of paramount importance, but will also make you comfortable with third party criticisms and reviews.
This will also train you to take constructive criticism consciously and with an open mind; increasing your team-working skills and humility.
Digital review: Share your original two cover letters (uncorrected) with a former employer or with friends or a teacher via email or WhatsApp; making most use of our connectivity in this time of ‘Lock down’.
Seek their points of view on your cover letter will add to this third person perspective. Finally, you can also see the similarities between the corrections made by you to your original documents on the second day and those pointed out by your peers or former employers.
You can also use this last exercise to compare your CV digitally; taught in the last lesson, if you are comfortable sharing your CV digitally with close persons.
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