- Career coach Bernd Slaghuis says your covering letter’s length doesn’t matter.
- According to the expert, one of the biggest mistakes you can make is to simply repeat your CV.
- Slaghuis says applicants should ensure their personality shines through to connect with the reader.
Writing out a successful cover letter may seem like a straightforward task but there’s a lot of room for things to go wrong.
All the important parts have to be clear, it mustn’t be too long, the introduction has to be accurately written and formulaic expressions like “It’s for this reason I’m applying…” will immediately rule you out.
If you really want your application to be compelling, convincing, and to stand out from the crowd, every detail has to be spot-on down to a tee.
Career and applications coach Bernd Slaghuis outlined what a cover letter needs to be truly successful.
Your letter’s length doesn’t determine its potential for success
“Many applicants believe there’s this rule that a cover letter should never under any circumstances be longer than one page, or that it should consist of a maximum of three paragraphs. I don’t believe in arbitrary rules like that,” said Slaghuis. “Even if all relevant contents of a good cover letter fit on one page, a longer cover letter might also yield good results and lead to an offer of employment.”
The real problem arises when applicants who want to show what they’re capable of write unnecessarily long cover letters. Or, worse still, applicants use formulaic phrases and complicated sentence structures. “Readability, clear structure and clear expression are more important than squeezing in big, clunky sentences within millimetres of going over the page margins.”
According to Slaghuis, you can really score with your application if the cover letter complements your CV rather than echoing it. That means avoiding stock phrases, as well as information you’ve already mentioned in your CV. As the career coach explained, specialist knowledge and professional experience already stand out in a good CV, so these can be omitted from your cover letter.
“If you only want to write your CV using text quotes from freely available sample letters, you’re not likely to score any points with your potential employer, let alone inspire them.”
Also superfluous is information the recruiter already knows — for example, that the potential future employer is an internationally renowned company. Overall, the “less is more” rule is the only one that applies.
“Applicants should also refrain from trying to butter up their employer or from informing them of where exactly they found the job ad: nor is it worth mentioning the fact that you’re looking for a new challenge.”
Bring your personality to the application
A cover letter is your chance to show off your personality. “What sets you apart from other applicants as a person and what’s your working style like? What do friends, colleagues or previous superiors particularly like about you? What kind of role do you like to play within a team? Trying to include what your attitude is like as a leader is another one, as long as the position you’re applying for is an executive one.” These are all questions you can answer in your cover letter.
“My top tip to those who’ve switched quite a lot between jobs? They should use their cover letter to talk about their professional future — after all, it is meant to be about the job and, potentially, a new employer for the next few years. Explain why this in particular would be an important career step for you. What are your goals for the next few years to come?”
As well as qualifications, sympathy plays an important role in the application: “Applicants with better CV and cover letter become more tangible as people if they’re able to compel the reader of the cover letter to relate to the author — and this makes it easier for recruiters and future managers to judge whether or not the applicant would be a good fit.
“Not only does this increase the probability of you being invited to a face-to-face interview; it also means you’re more likely to find a position that truly suits you.”