Flo Asks: What's the deal with cover letters?

What's the deal with cover letters? 

You’ve got a killer C.V. under your belt, thanks to the amazing tips from Alice and Phanella! But now you’re faced with a blank word document that should be your cover letter. 

There are a few things that seem suspect about a cover letter. 

Firstly, if you’ve already spent sweat, blood (from paper cuts) and tears trying to create a knockout C.V. what more is there to say in a cover letter apart from ‘PICK ME PLEASE!’? The second, and most pressing issue for many millennials will also be the concept of a ‘letter’. 

Even as someone who likes to write I probably haven’t written a letter for a good couple of years and even when I did it was most likely an excuse to go to Paperchase and buy nice stationery! As a generation we’re used to saying what we need to in as little space as possible, in witty texts and pithy emails. Give us a caption competition and we’re on fire, but there’s something oh so formal about a letter. 

Which raises a third issue. We’re all familiar with the concept of a formal letter of ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ sealed off with a ‘yours sincerely’. But for someone who is applying to jobs that fall under the ‘creative’ banner this seems excessively proper. 

So I am asking, how do we write a cover letter that doesn’t just sound like the rambling version of our C.V. and why are cover letters such an important part of our application?

Alice & Phanella's Cover Letter 101. 

Cover letters are notoriously tricky. As you say, how do you not repeat your whole CV? Plus, blowing your own trumpet whilst not sounding boastful doesn't come naturally at all. The trick is to be focused, fact-based and authentic.

Focussed: the ultimate covering letter is brief. It addresses the requirements set out in the job spec and how you - specifically - can address those challenges. We often suggest a maximum of three paragraphs under the following headings:

- Why this role? What can you bring to this role particularly? Why do you want to do it?

- Why this employer? What is special about them? Why are you a good fit?

- Why Me? What is special about you? What do you bring generally?

Fact-based: When it comes to any kind of job application - CV, Linked In, interview - evidence should be your watchword. And covering letters are no different. Wherever possible give concrete evidence of the achievements or skills you are highlighting, for example "whilst head of the women's network at my college, I increased membership by 25% through a targeted marketing campaign" as opposed to (real life example) "I was head of the women's network at college which shows my leadership skills". Evidencing is a double whammy: suddenly, this feels more like a statement of fact than a list of boasting - so much easier to write - and the employer has concrete examples of what you might be able to deliver for them. Persuasive stuff.

Authentic: the covering letter is brilliant because it gives a place for you showcase yourself outside the confines of your CV. Is there something interesting, brilliant or quirky about you that you think makes you perfect for the job? In a CV this kind of info can be difficult to place, but in a letter you just write it down. You don't need to be shouty and brash if that's not your style. For example an opening sentence of "I am grateful for the opportunity to apply for the role of X" is miles better as an opener than "I believe I am the perfect person for this role" and probably feels more comfortable too.

If you follow these rules, check spelling and grammar carefully and tailor the letter to each specific job, you'll have a persuasive statement of why they should interview you.

And if you've read these tips and still can't get the first sentence down on paper, try this hack. Pretend you're writing for a friend. Research tells us when we write as if for someone else, "showing off" immediately becomes more comfortable. 

x Alice & Phanella x