Pay close attention to this one. In my opinion, this is the part that secures you the interview. Your CV helps, but it’s your cover letter that really lets the employer know if you want to work there and if you’re serious about the position. Be prepared to spend a lot of time on your cover letters.
To get to the next stage of the assessment process or to be shortlisted for any position, you’re going to have to personalise each cover letter to each placement position that you apply to. If you want to be lazy, you can write a general ‘Dear Sir/Madam, please hire me because I need a job’ type letter, but more times than not, you won’t make the cut.
I’m not saying that you have to write each one from scratch – you can keep some chunks of it the same, like your interests and hobbies and past experiences etc. but at the very least, make sure you include the name of the company and the position that you are applying for in the body of the text. If you are going to go about doing it this way, just make sure you remember to change everywhere that you’ve mentioned the company name, before you send it. You don’t want to make the mistake of applying to somewhere like Microsoft saying how amazing the company is and then signing off, ‘Working at Amazon would be an amazing opportunity.’ Please read it before you send it. Please.
Another way to make your cover letter a little bit more personal is by finding out who is doing the recruiting for the placement position you are applying to, so that you can address your cover letter to a specific person. Opening with ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ is something you should try to avoid. You can find this out by giving the company a quick call, asking the representatives at the career days or by sending an email to the HR team.
For Coty, the HR manager at that time, Beebee came into LJMU to give a talk on the company and what the company was and the roles they had on offer. Beebee then gave us a heads up that she would be the one reading the cover letters so we automatically knew to address the letter to her. I also started mine off by saying I had attended the presentation so already felt that I had a good knowledge of the business. Definitely slide a reminder in your opening paragraph if you’ve been in contact with the recruiter already, or name-drop anyone that you have been talking to – ask if it’s ok to do this beforehand.
Do your research
Before you go writing an entire plea about how this is your dream job, dream company and you can see yourself working at this place for the rest of your life – research the company. Most importantly, research the role.
Make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into. If it’s a marketing position and you have your heart set on this career path, then all the best, you know what you’re doing. However, if you are applying for roles that you have never heard of, you’re going to want to find out a little bit more information. Don’t forget, you’ll be in this position for a year at the most. That’s a long time to be doing something you don’t enjoy.
Have a look in the news results of Google when you search the company. Get a feel for how they come across in the media. If the top five results are highly negative, is this somewhere you want to work? You can also mention relevant news stories in your cover letter if it fits. For example, if you found out that the company won an award for ‘best small company to work for 2016’, you can comment on how you think the culture is extremely attractive and you are certain that you would flourish in this positive office environment.
Have a look on the company’s LinkedIn page, look at the types of news that they are sharing. Maybe they have a blog? If you have a blog yourself, you can put forward your services and say that you have experience in writing on a blogging platform, and could add another voice to the company blog – maybe even from a placement student perspective.
Another website that I had a look at was Glass Door. This is where you’ll find reviews left by actual employees of the business. Although, more often than not they are quite negative as the majority of people that leave reviews only do so when they’ve had bad experiences. But they do list some things that they did like about the company. Don’t let it completely determine your choices. I wouldn’t be sat at my desk right now if I had. Plus, there are many factors that influence that person’s experience; their job role, their team and the type of person they are. Maybe these people just aren’t team players?
Just make sure you know as much as possible before applying.
No one wants to read a boring cover letter that is just a replica of your CV in paragraphs. Write some things that you haven’t mentioned in your CV or go into greater detail about something that you have mentioned.
Write about what your passions are (even better if they’re related to the business) and what it is that drives you in everyday life. Let them know more about you as a person so that they can judge whether you’d be a fit for the company.
Make sure to include why you want to work at the company. Why you would be the best person for that specific role. What you would gain from working at the company and also what the company would gain from hiring you. Stay humble but don’t undersell yourself. You’re competing with thousands of other students across the country, don’t forget.
If the company is a significant brand or owns brands, maybe show how you have an allegiance to them or are a customer of that brand. Good luck if you’re applying to somewhere like Bentley.
In my cover letter, I wrote how I was passionate about skincare due to having gone through a treatment of Roaccutane for my acne, and was a regular user of the philosophy take a deep breath moisturiser. At least show that you know what the company does and the products that it sells.
The structure of a cover letter
Again with the baby steps. But it makes life a whole lot easier for you, and when I was applying for placements, I had never seen a cover letter (I thought it was another name for a personal statement, which it kind of is) nor knew how to go about writing one.
In length, mine was exactly one page. I wouldn’t go over this, or much under. Keep it in succinct with nice, short paragraphs.
At the top you’re going to want to put your name, followed by your contact details below. Likewise with the CV, if an employer likes what they see, they’re going to want to get in touch. I then put the address of the company that I was applying to. Articles I read online said it was nice to add this in. Also, the Microsoft Word template had a space for the address, so g’wan*, add it in. *Northern Irish for ‘Go on’.
Here we go.
- ‘Dear [Recruiter’s name]’ – extremely advantageous if you find this out.
- My first paragraph outlined that I wanted to be considered for the position – give the exact title that appears on the job advertisement – and how I had heard of the position (Beebee’s talk that I had mentioned before).
- ‘I think I am best suited for this role because…’ – here I gave information about my university course, the modules I was taking and how this suited the role that I was applying for. Also include your first year result and maybe even your A Levels if you think they are relevant.
- ‘I have had experience…’ – now is your time to shine. List all experience that is necessary. The more the better. Employer’s want to see that you understand the role and have been in a position where you have carried out similar tasks before. They would rather hire someone that has a grasp on the job already, compared to someone that has never stepped foot inside an office before. It’s a cruel world, I know, but you need to go out and get some experience in order to improve yourself and learn (and also to secure a placement).
- The next paragraph carried on from the experience, where I started to talk about my blog and how this was also helping me make connections in the PR world and learn from other students and professionals.
- Now you need to talk about why you want to work for that particular company. What is it about the sector that interests you? If it’s sports, describe how much of a sports fan you are. If it’s Tech, talk about how you keep up with the current trends and releases. If it’s Disney, say how you go to Disneyland once a year (ha). Maybe it’s the company’s values that draws you in? Their culture? Maybe their commitment to the environment? Try to avoid make anything up. You’re asking to work there for a year, so you do actually want to be interested in the company and role that you are applying for.
- Lastly, have a look at the job description and person specification. Try and add in some skills and qualities that they are looking for. I wrote about my social media skills (very necessary) and Microsoft Office skills, which they asked for.
- BONUS LINE: At the very end of each of my cover letters, I always wrote ‘I would love to meet in person to reiterate my passion for PR and the ___ industry.’ AKA, ‘Interview me.’ It worked every time.
- Sign off: ‘Yours sincerely, Orlagh Shanks’. If I was applying to a poetry company however, I would write ‘Many thanks, Orlagh Shanks.’
Before you send it, please read over it. I can’t stress this enough. Employers don’t want to hire someone that has spelling or grammar mistakes in their cover letter. I wouldn’t even apply to a job with a spelling mistake in the advert, never mind send an application with a spelling mistake. If you make spelling mistakes on the regular, send your cover letter to me and I’ll read it for you. I’d be happy to.
My best friend is in her final year of an English degree and when it comes to texting, she makes the most spelling mistakes and grammar errors out of everyone that I know. It keeps my brain active having to decipher all of her messages. But when it comes to writing her essays and that, she’s a pro.
You can be the world’s best speller, but when it comes to reading over your own work, you may miss an error or two, so it’s always best to have someone proofread your work for you.
I have a lot of cover letters that I wrote for different companies, so get in contact if you’d like me to send any over for guidance. I’d be happy to do so.
Best of luck and happy writing!
In the next post of the series, I’ll be talking about organisation. You’ll be applying for placements left, right and centre and so you may forget what and where you’ve applied to along with important interview and deadline dates.