A cover letter gives you a chance to set yourself apart from the competition. In a tough job market, it’s a chance that you want to make the most of. While a résumé lists facts about skills, work experience, and academic background, a cover letter introduces you to the hiring manager as an individual singularly suited for the job and the company.
Writing an effective cover letter requires relevant research, meticulous attention to the job description, and a great deal of time and effort. You need to convey how your expertise and experience are perfectly suited to solving challenging problems for the company, in a succinct, authentic, and compelling way. It may take some practice, but it is well worth the rewrites.
Cover letters should be short enough to be read at a glance. Experts say the ideal length is much shorter than a full page. This means you have to put forth the most pertinent accomplishments, explain why you’re enthusiastic about working for the company, and infuse some personality, as briefly as possible.
Key elements of your cover letter
Remember that a good cover letter is one that holds the reader’s attention from the first sentence until the last. You need to write just a few sentences, but each must tell a persuasive story about your experience, your skills, yourself and what you expect to contribute to the organization you’re applying to.
You must customize your cover letter. No hiring manager or recruiter will be interested in a generic letter. Each letter must be customized for the job and company in particular. Explain why you want to work at the organization. Hiring managers like motivated candidates who have a clear idea of what they’re looking forward to at the new place of work.
For example, maybe you respect your potential employer’s longstanding reputation for trust and professionalism. Maybe you admire the organization’s work culture, or its vision. Maybe the organization is relatively new, and you want to have the experience of working at a start-up.
Succinctly explain how your experience qualifies you for the job. Include one or two examples (at most) of a particular challenge that you encountered at work and how you solved that problem (or problems).
Succinctly explain how your skills are very well suited to the job. Based on the job description, identify the tools, programming language, or best practices that you’re especially skilled at and provide an example of how you have applied those skills in the workplace.
Let’s talk about you
To write an effective and compelling cover letter, you must read the job description over and over again. You need to include relevant experience and skills. Highlight expertise and work accomplishments that relate to the job description.
Provide one or two examples of relevant work done. Mention specific problems that you have solved and explain how you solved them. Tell the hiring manager how your work experience and skills, such as languages, tools, or best practices can be applied in the new role.
Through your research on the organization, you should have identified some of their ongoing challenges. Succinctly explain how you would use your proficiency and experience to solve one of those problems.
Mention your enthusiasm about working for the organization. Hiring managers want to see evidence of genuine passion for the job. They also want to ascertain whether you’d be the right fit for the company culture. As an IT professional, you know the importance of adaptability and continual learning. Be sure to discuss these qualities in your cover letter.
Let’s talk about them
Find out everything that you can about the organization you’re applying to, as well as the specific job role they want you to fill. Find out about their business, their philosophy, and their work culture.
Much of this information will be available online: Take a good look at the organization’s website. Read the LinkedIn profiles of the senior manager and other employees in the department you would like to join. Also, go through their Twitter timelines. The more you know, the better — it show you’re serious about the job.
Knowing about the work culture and personnel will also help you determine the appropriate tone to use in your letter. As you prepare your letter, be sure to address the hiring manager by name. Looking through the company website, LinkedIn, and elsewhere on social media should help you find the name of the hiring manager.
Demonstrate that you know what the company does and some of the challenges it is facing. Space-permitting, briefly discuss how you would be well-suited to help them succeed and continue to grow.
— Be concise. The hiring manager should be able to read your letter at one go.
— Begin by clearly stating your reason for wanting a particular job at a particular organization. Then explain what value you can bring to the company.
— Be honest. Only highlight skills and experience you really have.
— Include at least one example from your previous work experience to show how you can apply that to solve a challenging problem at the new company.
— Use clichés. Avoid phrases, such as “problem solver,” “detail-oriented,” “team player,” “multi-task,” “born leader,” “think outside the box,” and similar.
— Try to be too familiar, casual, or funny. Keep to the point and convey a balance of professionalism and personality.
— Submit a generic cover letter. As discussed, each cover letter should be customized for the job and organization.
— Flatter. It’s unprofessional and undignified. Always, maintain a professional and mature demeanour.
There are multiple resources available online if you need advice on how to write a cover letter. In particular, look for tips and guides on LinkedIn. There are quite a few.
Here are some other links:
Novorésumé: How to Write a Cover Letter
Résumé Genius: How to Write a Cover Letter
The Muse: 31 Tips for Writing a Cover Letter
The Balance Careers: How to Write a Cover Letter
There are many others. Search around and find one that suits you. You can also ask ex-colleagues and friends in the industry. Don’t forget to proofread your letter before sending it in. Proofread for grammatical and spelling errors, as well as typos.
Ask a trusted senior colleague or mentor to review your cover letter. Their feedback can be invaluable. Ask them whether they can discern the key point of your story. Secondarily, ask them to point out what may be wrong with the letter, if anything. It’s always a good idea to also ask a close and knowledgeable friend or family member whether they can be of help.