This is a question people ask me often, so here’s my advice. Especially since a couple of weeks ago I told you how to quit *insert cheesy grin here*.
Is it needed?
Before you start stressing over the cover letter, you need to find out if one is actually needed. If the job ad specifically says, Submit your CV with cover letter here, then yes, you need one. If it doesn’t, you might be able to assume they’re not interested in cover letters.
You are also allowed to actually call a human and ask them.
‘Hi Donna, my name is Shelly Davies. I’m just wondering if a cover letter is needed with my application for the unicorn trainer position? Thank you! Is there anything else you think I should know? Awesome. You have a great day.’
Some recruiters will put A LOT of weight on the cover letter – maybe even more than the CV. Others never even read that cover letter you spent three hours writing and ran past a test audience of 23 poor friends.
So, find out if it’s needed. If not, your cover letter can say exactly:
Please find attached my CV in application for the position of Unicorn Trainer.
What does it need to accomplish for you?
If you’ve established that a cover letter is needed, you need to decide what you want it to do for you.
A cover letter can’t be everything. Your CV has a job and the cover letter has a job. Make sure you’re clear on which is doing what. Don’t make your cover letter a differently formatted CV.
Does it need to make you stand out? Does it need to reinforce to them that you meet all their criteria? Does it need to show personality? Does it need to show that you have added value above what they’re looking for? Decide which of those is your focus before you start writing. It can’t do all of those things!
The recruiter is BUSY
They will go through those cover letters with military precision and they will cull HARD. If you write a novel, you’re effectively creating more work for that recruiter.
Don’t make them work. Make it easy for them.
How? Use headings. Use bullets. Be concise. They will be skim reading. Paragraphs, stories, narratives, novels – these things are hard to skim read.
Professional is PERSONAL
Most of us think that to sound professional we need to use a formal voice. That’s utter bullshit.
To sound professional, show who you are confidently and appropriately. Speak to your reader. Use 1st and 2nd person. It’s a conversation. The more formal the voice you use, the colder and more clinical and more bland the letter is.
Bland doesn’t get you a job.
Basically? Errors are a turn-off. Use Grammarly. Use the Hemingway Editor. Use your Great Aunt. But don’t send a cover letter with errors. At the very least, read it out loud.
Use a simple, clean, modern sans serif font. Make sure there’s enough line spacing and clear paragraph breaks. All of these things help your busy busy reader to skim read and get a good, strong, confident, professional opinion of you.
Let’s talk about your CV. Résumé. Whatever you call it. It’s the thing you rely on to show a prospective employer that you’re shit hot. It needs to yell, I’M THE ONE FOR YOU!! It’s often your first chance to make an impression.
What intrigues me is how much boring, run of the mill advice is out there. If you follow it, you’ll get your CV aaaall the way to the… middle of the heap. Yay.
If we do what’s always been done, what’s expected, what’s conventional, you’ll fit right in with everyone else. That’s lovely and safe if you want to blend in.
BUT YOU DON’T WANT TO BLEND IN, DUH!
The entire point of a CV is to get noticed. In a good way.
And guess what? As a writer (who gets asked to develop CVs for some amazing people), I have thoughts on this, too. Surprise, surprise.
I talk a lot on social media about how I love enhancv.com. If you read no further, just go check them out. If you want more convincing, here are some reasons why I love it!
Words are important but first impressions last
Yes, word choice in your CV is important. But words only have impact once someone decides to start reading. I believe we write our CVs based on an incorrect presupposition: that people are going to read them, word for word. Like a novel. For fun.
But that’s not what happens at first glance.
At first glance, people scan. They skim. And they make instant judgements about you, based on whatever jumps out at them, and especially on the layout – Does it look polished? Does it look professional?
The next question then, is: what does professional look like? A page full of black and white text with very little differentiation that requires you to read it word for word? That isn’t appealing to the eye, and it doesn’t invite engagement.
But if you use a more graphically designed layout, something where the headings and key words jump out, that’s gonna get attention. In fact, the reader would have to consciously try NOT to notice a word here and there.
So, use a layout that’s different from the traditional black and white sections and paragraphs. Instead, add a little pop of colour – nothing over-the-top. Make sure there’s a visual element, that’s going to make your CV stand out in the pile.
We hire people not qualifications or experience
Yes, there are minimum qualifications and ideal experience that recruiters are looking for. But ultimately, your CV is going to be placed alongside someone else’s, or 5 or 10 someone elses’. And they might all meet those same criteria perfectly.
At that point, what’s going to give you the edge? YOU! Your personality, your character, your authentic self. So I truly believe your CV needs to give clear insight into what kind of person you are.
I absolutely detest words in CVs that are the same words everyone else is using:
I’m a people person! (Yay! Anyone on the planet can say they’re a people person!)
Highly motivated (Sounds great. Where’s the evidence?)
Let’s not pretend that a CV is anything other than a selling document.
It’s your opportunity to sell yourself to a prospective employer. And if there’s anything that you wanna be in that position – it’s confident.
When you’re willing to step a little outside of the norm of convention, just a little, that comes across as confident. I’m not talking about pushing the boundaries hugely. There is such a thing as being overly confident, arrogant, borderline ridiculous. That’s completely up to you whether you think that’s going to sell or not.
But you know what? That’s what I choose to do with mine. Over-the-top Rockstar Writer, check me out! It fits my brand. It sends the message that I want to send. In some situations you might wanna do that. In others it might alienate a prospective employer. But the point is, don’t be exactly the same as everyone else.