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How to stand out in a cover letter

Women with megaphone
Cover letters. We love them and we hate them. It can be frustrating as a candidate to spend hours writing bespoke cover letters only to be immediately rejected for a role, but an expertly written cover letter can be the difference between success and rejection.
There are many arguments for and against the necessity of a cover letter. However, according to a survey carried out by ResumeLab, 83% of recruiters still agree that a cover letter is still important for hiring decisions. 
Cover letters are your first chance at not only communicating your skills and further knowledge within your industry, but at demonstrating why you would be a great culture fit, as well as proving you’ve done your homework about the business you are applying to.
Really want that job? Then follow some of our top tips on how to stand out in a cover letter below:

6 tips to stand out in your cover letter:


1. Start with a strong opener, and avoid addressing “to whom it may concern”

First off, try hard to avoid addressing your letters to “whom it may concern” or “sir/madam”. Do your homework and find out who the hiring manager or head of department is that is most likely to be reading your letter. If you can’t find out who it is, then as a last option, we’d recommend addressing to the team, for example – “to the IT team at Bright Purple”.
Secondly, the first line of your cover letter is a pivotal moment. It will either draw the hiring manager in or put them off reading the rest. There are many ways people suggest starting a cover letter, from telling a story, to conveying excitement about the company or getting straight in to highlighting a personal achievement. There’s no real right answer here, but however you go about it, be sure to convey your personality! Here are a few examples, using Bright Purple as the prospective company:
  • “Having successfully developed a new app using JavaScript, under budget and ahead of schedule, I am excited for the opportunity to take on a new challenge at Bright Purple, where I can continue to utilize and develop my skillset.”
  • “I’m John, and I am obsessed with Python (the programming language, not the snake, although they’re pretty cool too)”.
  • “I’ve been following Bright Purple for a number of years, and from your incredible track record of contract placements to your charity efforts with the Stroke Association, I know you are the company I’d love to work for”.  
Top Tip: You don’t need to start by telling them what job you are applying for, they know that already!

2. Be Specific.

Recruiters want to hear about your achievements, with the figures to back it up. Did you implement a new piece of software? Great, but how did that help the business? Maybe it helped by increasing efficiency by 42%, or increasing quarterly sales by 75%. If so, write it down! For example:
Instead of
In my first year at Bright Purple, I beat my quarterly targets”
Change to:
“In my first year at Bright Purple, I exceeded my target by 220%, generating £120k in commission and 11 new clients”.
Just make sure that whatever you say, you are able to back up with the evidence if asked to prove it! #ProofisPower
The STAR acronym can help you outline your specific achievements and successful outcomes:
Situation: Set the scene and give the necessary details of your example.
Task: Describe what your responsibility was in that situation.
Action: Explain exactly what steps you took to address it.
Result: Share what outcomes your actions achieved. 

3. Keep it relevant

This one was a biggie from our recruiters... make sure any skills you write down are honest and relevant; this includes on your LinkedIn and CV too.
Hiring managers want to know you are a perfect fit for the job, so get to the point and don’t waste time talking about skills you aren’t actively using or that don’t apply to the role.

4. Use bullet points to highlight key information

Although cover letters are important, there is a chance that busy recruiters may skim your cover letter for the highlights. Make this easier for them by bullet pointing your key successes or skills, as this will draw the eye to that part of the page.

5. Address the requirements of the job description (without pointing it out!)

The job description you are applying for will likely have had a list of skills, qualifications or requirements that are desirable for the job. Yes your CV will list them, but the cover letter is your opportunity to really demonstrate how you use those skills.
A silly point but we see it all the time – there is no need to state why every point links back to the job description; the hiring manager knows what they are looking for, you don’t need to point out that it matches the description!
Instead of:
“The job description states that you are looking for someone that is able to work in a fast-paced environment: in my previous role I thrived under pressure in a fast-moving business….”
“I am used to working in high-pressure, fast-moving businesses, as demonstrated in my last role where ..*insert example here**.

6. Show off your personality!

Regardless of the type of business you are applying for, we’re all human, and hiring managers want to see your personality come out in order to determine if you are a culture fit. Don’t be afraid to use a little humour!
Personality woman
Do you still write cover letters or should they be a thing of the past? What are your own top tips on cover letter writing?
Let us know!
Check out our other advice blogs for more recruitment advice and top tips.
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