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Image courtesy: ralaenin (stock.xchang)

*Sigh* *groan* I think “exasperated” is an understatement of gargantuan proportions to describe how I’m feeling after two weeks of sifting through endless job applications from people who probably really do want the contract that I am offering, but clearly fell asleep in “Job Hunting 101”. I know that they say that the quality of the answer is positively correlated to  the quality of the question, but, honestly, I think the dire quality of the job applications I have received from potential contractors is beyond excruciating. In fact, I have hit “delete” on the vast majority of applications that I have received based on the cover letter alone. In this here age of outsourcing and freelancers (especially those from offshore), I would encourage all and sundry who are serious about winning a job or a contract to pay particular attention to their cover letter.

The cover letter is the first exposure that an employer has to you. If your cover letter is not up to scratch, your experience will not matter because they are not going to even look at your CV. It’s like turning up to a first date in your pyjamas (unless, of course, you’ve actually been invited to a pyjama party for said first date – in which case: wow!); put in a little effort, and you’d be surprised at how much further that date will go!

Put in a bit of effort in writing your cover letter, and I will put in a bit of effort to read it. Image credit: mercyGurl (stock.xchang)

So here are my top 3 tips (as obvious and simple as they may seem) for writing a cover letter that will entice your potential employer to turn the page and look at the rest of your CV:

  1. If the job advertisement contains instructions on what the format of your job application should be : FOLLOW THOSE INSTRUCTIONS. Not only will this show that you can follow instructions (!), but often the employer may receive so many applications, that failure to follow their instructions is a good excuse for them to throw out your CV and flip to the next applicant. Case in point: in the ad that I posted, I clearly specified that applicants should list their experience in the area that I was interested in (which happened to be a particularly niche area of IT) and not to merely send me a list of all the experience they have ever had in the field of IT. Almost 80% of job applicants ignored this instruction. Those 80% did not get a further look in from me.
  2. Tailor your cover letter to the job advertisement. If you care enough to tailor your cover letter for my viewing, then I, as your potential employer, will feel that you actually care about winning the job, hence I will care enough to read the rest of your CV. You would be surprised at how similar job applications start to look after reading the first half dozen. For a start, if the job advertisement contains a contact name at the potential employer, address the cover letter to that person – do not write a generic “Dear Potential Employer”!! (Yes, I did in fact receive a number of cover letters that addressed me in this way).
  3. Describe your relevant experience and minimise the amount of space given to generic qualities and skill sets. In order to work out what is “relevant” – READ the job advertisement! In relation to the latter point, you would be amazed at how boring and cookie-cutter a cover letter sounds when the applicant describes themselves as “results focussed”, “customer orientated” etc … these are qualities that an employer would expect of all applicants in any event, so stating it does not make you stand out.

Have you ever had the joy of wading through job applications? What other tips can you give for people writing cover letters in their job hunting?

bisous, mon ami