Even though we live in a pile-it-high and move-fast-recruitment culture, adding weight and focus to your application through a carefully crafted letter or cover email can be extremely advantageous.
Most job boards accommodate this. I have also visited a number of larger employers' career sites, and each one I visited included a section for a covering note or letter of some kind.
As an ex-recruiter, I’ll confess that we very often sped past an introductory letter or email, but if the CV looked right, we went back to check what further information might be revealed within.
So what should a great cover letter do?
The principle you should remember is that you are marketing a product (you) to a very specific audience. In most cases, the job advert from that ‘audience’ reveals exactly what ‘product’ they’re looking for.
What you’re looking to do is ensure they can’t miss how you fit their bill and why they should snap you up. Like any good marketing, you might need to make a similar point in different ways several times as people don’t always get it the first time.
That’s where your cover letter really comes into its own. Either before the CV is read, by telling readers exactly what they are about to see, or by confirming what they’ve just read; summing it all up nicely.
Give yourself an advantage
The power of suggestion in this scenario is very strong. You can put your desired summary into someone’s mind, especially if they are reading a number of CVs at pace. Even seasoned recruiters can be influenced by a convincing portrayal. Just remember that, like any brand experience, if the contents don’t live up to the description on the wrapper the consumer’s disappointment is doubled.
So what needs to go in there?
Keep it short, avoid clichés and simpering politeness. Convey the facts with an added opinion, avoiding arrogance but demonstrating some self-belief. That‘s a fine line to walk, so get someone else to look over it before pressing ‘send’. They may spot a tone of voice or meaning that you hadn’t even considered was there.
Use bullet points if you like and don’t be afraid to use the same words as you have in your CV, perhaps even lifting sections from your profile paragraph or key achievements. The repetition will be powerful as long as you don’t overdo it.
Explain how you match the culture of the company or organization. You can do this more easily here than in the CV. Give reasons why you want to work there (think about what they will get from you, not what you’ll get from them).
Don’t be wild and whacky unless the organisation you’re applying to is. Use a normal typeface; I’d recommend something neutral and contemporary such as Helvetica, Calibri and Arial. Don’t add a scanned signature or links as this may cause it to be kicked out by their system's spam or malware filters.
Does it really make a difference?
I realise this all means extra effort and time, but you’re spending a lot of time making the application. I believe you’ll increase your chances of gaining an interview by 50% by including a cover note, so consider reducing the number of applications you make and go for quality instead.