Cover Letter Or Not: That Is The Question

Do you need a cover letter to send with your CV in a job application? Whilst there is so much conflicting advice out there, the answer is almost always a “yes” or “whenever possible”.

Even when applying through an online system that does not specify or allow for cover letter attachments, you can always weave your intended narrative into the given fixed data fields to demonstrate your enthusiasm and suitability for the role. As long as you put in the effort to be resourceful, it is not hard to look up the hiring manager’s contact information and follow up with an email. 

Why Do You Need a Cover Letter?

For starters, if you plan on saying exactly what is on your CV, you should not bother writing a cover letter. Your cover letter should enhance your CV, not repeat its details in paragraph form. 

A cover letter is your best shot at getting the attention of your hiring manager and differentiating yourself from the other candidates. It is your chance to engage in a “conversation” with the prospective employer, showcasing your personality, explaining your inspirations and motivations, proving that you are more than just stats in CV bullet points, but a profile with desirable attributes that is worth getting to know. 

Especially if there are gaps in your CV that you wish to explain, such as an abrupt end to a permanent role for reasons beyond your control or the productive things you did on your sabbatical, this is the perfect platform. The cover letter also allows you to work in some of the key skills mentioned in the job ad, increasing your chances of getting past the Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) used by some companies to filter out applications.

A good cover letter can frame your credentials in the right light; a bad one can engage the delete button. Here’s how to avoid the trash. Your step-by-step guide on how to write a professional and compelling cover letter:  

Scholarship Guide Cover Letter or Not: That Is the Question researching on laptop

Do Your Research

Study the role and the potential employer. Read the job description, and next to every line of responsibilities and requirements, make little notes on how you are equipped to fulfil those criteria and how you can add value. 

Scour the company’s website and familiarise yourself with its products and services, milestones, people, and culture. Look up the organisation’s latest news, events, and happenings. If you know someone at the company, even better, speak with them to learn more.

Always customise your cover letter for every application. It will show if you did your homework.

Be Future Focused

The CV is a factual record of your past, whilst the cover letter focuses on your potential contribution. Talk about how your skills, achievements, and experiences relate to what you hope to do next and why. Help the hiring manager visualise the future benefits with you as part of their team.  

Engage Right Off the Start

“I saw on X that you were advertising for the position of Y with Z, and I wish to apply.” (Yawn…) How dull is that? 

Lead with a strong, snappy opening statement. Your introduction should draw the reader’s attention, enticing them to read on. Tell a compelling story about yourself (but never exaggerate or attempt to deceive) and demonstrate your passion. No two people have the same achievements, have the same mind, or see things the same way, which is why telling your story helps to set you apart.

Create a solid hook in your narrative, but regardless of how excited you are, do not try too hard or be overly creative or abstract. Get to the point quickly: Tell the reader who you are and why the position interests you. If you have an existing network connection with the company, be sure to reference the person in the first line of your cover letter.

It’s a Match!

Just like dating, both parties seek a perfect match. Prove to the potential employer that you are most compatible with them. Besides stating how your skills and experiences fulfil their requirements, show that your personal goals and values align with the vision and mission of the company. Explain why you care about what they do and why you can blend easily into their culture.

Offer Solid Back-Up 

Emphasise your personal value to the company, backing it up with your concrete qualifications. Translate your talents, what you have done, and the successes you have had—into how they can benefit the prospective employer. 

Anyone can claim that they are diligent, collaborative, adaptable, etc. If you say that you have certain great qualities, you must convince the reader that the statements are true by giving evidence on how you demonstrated those traits in specific scenarios.

What Not to Discuss

Salary expectations are not something to address in a cover letter but to be discussed at the last stage of the interview. There is also no need to explain why you plan to leave or have left your job.

Do not rant, complain, or criticise. Never act like a know-all, pointing out things you think the prospective employer has done wrong and how they should have been done.

Also, do not apologise for your missing experience. Instead of drawing attention to your weakness, emphasise your strength and transferrable skills. 

Finally, pocket some of your cards and save some talking points for the interview. 

Close Like a Champion

Do not water down your pitch, not even towards the end. End on a strong and confident note. 

Underscore all the points you have made so far and talk about your hopes for a fruitful relationship to follow and how you are excited to be part of their team. Show them that you are enthusiastic and serious. The conclusion should leave them wanting more of you. 

And be sure to include a call-to-action by requesting a meeting and pointing them to your contact information.

Tone, Length & Formatting

Be professional, respectful, and mature in your tone, but try not to sound scripted. Maintain being friendly and approachable. Do not sound desperate, and humour has no place in a cover letter.

Keep your letter brief enough for one to read in a single glance. One page is the absolute maximum. Use classic, easily readable fonts with clean, neat paragraph spacings—nothing out of the norm. And no spelling or grammatical errors, of course. (Pay attention to the small details. They are the ones that make big things happen.)

Scholarship Guide Cover Letter or Not: That Is the Question pencil shaving

Gather Feedback

You may want to have a friend, mentor, or a professional third party review your cover letter draft. Get their honest feedback. Ask them if the cover letter gets them excited and if it paints you in the best light. If the answer is no, go back to the drawing board.

Do not be intimidated by writing a cover letter. Yes, writing one is indeed an art by itself that requires research, strategic planning, and the use of the right, powerful words to convey your intent, sincerity, and suitability concisely. So, take your time to get it right.

The care you put into crafting a smart, targeted cover letter shows that you take your application seriously and can make the difference between you and other applicants. You can never be sure if the hiring manager will read your cover letter. But if a role is worth pursuing, why not put in the extra effort?