There are few endeavors as stressful and confidence crushing as searching for work. You may find yourself spending hours looking for the right job, spend even more hours perfecting your CV and cover letter, then never hear back. Or if you do hear back its a rejection. In the end you feel like Sisyphus, spending your days pushing a boulder uphill, only for it to roll right back down immediately after. It can be soul destroying.
Some people may make things even more difficult for themselves by only applying to a small number of jobs at a time and then passively wait. This problem can be made much worse by key information, like how much competition there is for the job, or exactly what the employers are looking for, being hard to find.
The difficulties never stop, even at the beginning when writing up your CV and cover letter. I remember I spent a long time once, just trying to figure out the best cover letter format to use.
Surely, there must be more information, or other strategies out there, I thought.
The template-like cover letter is too average to stand out in the job market.
Little did I know at the time, but there is a very specific art to writing cover letters, and once learned, my cover letters, and my job prospects increased dramatically.
A lot of us tend to write similar cover letters. We try to use a “one size fits all” policy, where our cover letters are adapted for each job, but generally relay the same information in a similar way. This is easy for us, but this strategy is unhelpful when we consider the job market as it truly is, and how to best write for it.
What is little known, is that there are actually three different kinds of cover letters…
The different kinds of cover letters are: invited cover letters, closed cover letters, and referral cover letters.
The first of the three are the kind you will likely be most familiar with:
1. Invited cover letter: a direct response to a job ad.
They tend to be the easiest to write as the job advert may have given you some indication on what to cover. You need to provide accurate and detailed information about relevant experience and knowledge that you have, and explain how this experience and knowledge makes you a good fit for the job and the company.
Extensive research into the company and its rivals is vital, this will show that you have carefully taken your time to write the cover letter and are passionate about the company.
These forms of applications and job postings actually represent the minority of available jobs to apply for. Roughly only 20% of job postings are publicly known and advertised.
To nail it:
- Take time to find out who the hiring manager is (it should say somewhere in the job posting). If you can’t find a name write something like ” Dear sir/madam” it should be pretty personal. Likewise tailor your letter for the company.
- Make sure you write down exactly what job you are applying for in the letter. Many people send exactly the same cover letter to different companies, and for different jobs. The hiring manager will be able to tell if this is what you did, and would think you don’t care about the job. Instant rejection.
- Be relatively brief and succinct, the whole cover letter should be no bigger than a normal A4 piece of paper, so only write relevant experience and tie it to the job. Make yourself seem like the only person in the world who will be able to do the job as well as you can.
- Proof read your work, put it aside, then proof it again, then have a friend go through it. If your letter is full of mistakes it will reflect badly on you. Basically, don’t do what I did once, and send a badly written, mistake filled cover letter for a job that requires you to write well.
2. Closed cover letter: for jobs that are “hidden”.
The invisible 80% available jobs are the “closed” section of the job market. These jobs there will be considerably less demand and competition for as they are so much harder to find. To apply for these jobs, you need to contact companies and employers directly and ask if there are any positions available.
It is far cheaper and easier for companies to recruit internally or through people already on their radar. When companies put time, effort and money into posting a job advert, this can imply that they are having trouble filling an open position, not just that there is a position available.
Therefore its important for you to become known to the company, you need to send a speculative cover letter. Unlike with invited cover letters, closed cover letters aren’t tailored to a specific job or role in the company as its likely you won’t know if there is such a role or position in the company which needs to be filled. Though it is important to give the company and the employer some indication of what your skills are and what you are best suited for.
These cover letters and applications are often sent in cold, without knowledge if the company is hiring or what positions are available. However, you’re lucky you may know someone in the company who can give you some indication of what jobs are available. In which case you need to write a referral cover letter.
To nail it:
- Unlike the invited cover letter, closed cover letters may be kept on file until a suitable position appears. This is important to consider when you are writing your cover letter.
As I mentioned earlier, you don’t need to tie your skill set for a specific job, but you should still indicate what kind of roles you are after.
- Instead of explaining why you are applying for a specific job, explain why you are applying for a relevant job in that specific company. Explain what you like about it, why you want to be a part of it, and why they should hire you.
Research all you can about the company and relate your experience and passions to that research.
3. Referral cover letter: you need great networking for this.
They are much more rare, and are usually the product of careful networking. Here, in the cover letter you mention the name of someone the prospective employer knows, someone who directly referred you to the company and the job. The benefit of this is twofold, firstly, mentioning the name of someone will be so unexpected it will draw the employer’s attention further, and secondly, if the person referenced is a person the employer respects, then you are providing good evidence for your skill and character.
Behind the scenes, the person who referred you to the position or the company may also be fighting your corner, making yourself further known to the company.
To nail it:
- If you are lucky enough to have a friend who is respected in the company, then this should be easy. Merely talk to them about job postings and then write either a invited cover letter or closed cover letter, mentioning their name and recommendation for the job. Be sure to emphasize it.
- It is really only worth mentioning the person if they are a respected member of the company and they are semi relevant to where you are applying. For example, if you want to work for a huge company like Apple as an engineer, there is little need mentioning your friend who is a clerk in an apple store.
- If you don’t know anyone relevant, spend your time networking. Social network sites are a revolutionary tool for this. Slowly make yourself (positively) known to the company and its staff from the outside.
To get the job you want, go beyond putting information into a cover letter template.
Identify the potential opportunities and work on a few tailor-made cover letters that can increase the chance of getting your dream job. Filling your information in a template just doesn’t work when it comes to making your cover letter stand out from others!
Remember, you’re not the only person competing in the job market, there’re a lot more talented candidates out there who may actually be very competitive for plenty of jobs. So don’t just send out one to two job applications, send out a lot of them!
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