We’re approaching Graduate Season where many candidates are finishing full-time studies and thinking about what they’re going to do next with their life.
When candidates start looking for their first job, the priority is always their CV and making sure it’s perfect. The cover letter is nearly always forgotten, which is a crucial mistake.
If you don't have work experience or your work experience is limited, a written cover letter can be one of the best ways to engage with a potential employer.
Below are ten points to consider when writing your cover letter if you've just graduated.
The Standard Cover Letter
Around this time, the usual email that I receive from a graduate goes something like this, "please find attached my CV for the position of xxx." Nine times out of ten, it heads directly to a particular folder in my email box never to be seen again. I'm sure for most hiring managers, this type of email or cover letter is not going to impress, and ends up in the same place.
If you want to impress with your cover letter, you'll need to put a lot more effort into it. You'll need to get my attention quickly while making sure I open your CV.
Putting more effort into creating a "great cover letter" will lead to more job interviews and therefore more chances you'll get your first job.
Don't Attach a Cover Letter
Don't attach your cover letter to the email. Instead, paste your cover letter into the body of the email with your CV attached. If your Cover Letter is attached, the chances of anyone reading it is very slim. Recruiters and hiring managers are always going to look directly at your CV to make a decision.
Repeat Your CV
The Number One rule to write any cover letter is not to repeat what you're saying in your CV. If you've written a cracking cover letter and it gets my attention, I'm likely to read it.
That said, if I then open your CV and it starts off with the same content that I've already read on the cover letter, it's likely I will skim read the majority of your CV and could easily miss crucial information that would help with your application.
Applicant Tracking Systems
Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) are being used across graduate recruitment due to the pure number of CV's that companies are receiving each week. It's just not possible for your average recruiter to sort through the sheer number of candidates that apply.
As a result, companies are using ATS programs to search CV's for specific keywords. The idea, you need to make sure both your CV and Cover Letter has a range of keywords that will be picked up by any ATS program the company is using.
What's My Name
So often I'm emailed a candidates CV to my email address which of all things contains my name. That said, at least 75% of cover letters that I receive start with “Dear Sir/Madam.”
You need to get into the habit of personalising your cover letter to a specific person. Most job boards will have the recruiters or hiring manager’s name attached to their job advert.
Watch out for uni-sex names such as Sam which could be both male and female. Have a look on LinkedIn or phone the company and ask if you are unsure.
Start Your Letter
Start your cover letter by mentioning that you're applying to the position. Many companies, especially the larger companies will have a range of jobs and programs could be suitable. Which are you interested in?
Something like, “I am writing to apply for the Finance Graduate Program, which I saw advertised on FinanceJobs.com”, would be a great starting point.
What are the hooks? The hook is what makes me want to read your cover letter and open your CV. It's the most critical part of your cover letter and an area you need to focus your time.
The best hook is where you use a referral from someone I know to introduce yourself. As an example, either a connection on LinkedIn that I know, my colleague at work or a personal friend.
Focus On Your Work Experience
Mention your education, but discuss in detail your achievements, your work experience and any internships you have completed.
Even if they are not relevant to the role that you’re applying for, Internships are a great way to show any knowledge or skills that you have learned and show your motivation to build your career.
Watch Out you don't claim to be an expert in a business area as this could come across as arrogant.
Ask for an Interview
Close your cover letter by asking for an interview. If you don't ask, you will not get.
Once you’re happy with your cover letter, it’s vital that you check and re-check for spelling and grammar errors.
I would also advise that you ask at least two people to read it before you start sending it to potential employers. They will be able to spot any spelling mistakes that you have missed, but also may be able to offer some advice.
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