Your Cover Letter is your key marketing document. Whereas the CV is a factual record of your experience, the Cover Letter is a chance for you to argue your case and prove how good a match you are for this particular opportunity.
The purpose of the Cover Letter is to answer the questions
Why me? And
Why this job?
You should always send a Cover Letter even if not specifically requested. Not to do so is to waste an opportunity to sell yourself. If emailing, attach the Cover Letter as a separate attachment. If submitting a form online then you can copy and paste your Cover Letter into the ‘Additional Information’ part of the application form
The best Cover Letters are:
You need to get across your enthusiasm for this particular job at this particular organisation. The skills and experience you highlight needs to be those which are most critical to this specific role. Employers can spot generic cover letters (or ones which have been merely tweaked) miles away.
The cover letter should not try to summarise your entire CV. Nor should you include evidence of how you meet every single aspect of the person specification. Concentrate on proving how well you meet the top 3 or 4 requirements of the job. Your CV, and the interview, can provide more detail about the rest.
The better you understand the demands of the job and the working environment, the more closely you will be able to tailor your pitch. Arrange informal conversations with the recruiting manager, the current post holder and, ideally, their colleagues to find out more about the role.
Based On Hard Evidence
Be as specific as possible and mention tangible achievements. ‘I have had ten years’ experience of managing projects’ is less convincing than ‘I led a yearlong project to merge two academic departments. This involved overseeing the work of a six person project team and was completed ahead of schedule, realising budget savings of 15%.’
Focused on Key Differentiators
Don’t waste space in your cover letter telling the employer about ways in which you meet their basic criteria. Focus instead on higher level skills and what sets you apart from the other candidates. Perhaps, as an internal candidate, you already know the organisation and its systems well. Or maybe you have a particular area of expertise or skill relevant to the job.
Honest and Convincing
You need to explain clearly what attracts you to this role and how it fits into your longer term career plans. Don’t assume this will be obvious to the employer. Explaining your rationale for applying is particularly important when the new job is a career change or a sideways move rather than a straight promotion.
Keep your message succinct. Try to write no more than two thirds of a page and never go over one page. Keep paragraphs and sentences short for maximum impact. The employer may have up to a hundred applications to read and is likely to spend no more than 30 seconds on the initial sift. If they like your cover letter, they may set aside more time to read your CV in detail later. You can help the employer by including your most important points in your first few sentences.
Remember that the employer will use the cover letter as evidence of your communication skills. The degree to which your letter is articulate, well structured and convincing is critical in showcasing your ability to explain, persuade and influence.