Stop telling employers you are a ‘creative and resourceful team player’. That’s what everyone else writes. Instead, Claire Whitmell explains, highlight your specific skills, achievements and relevant personality traits.

Your covering letter links your CV to the specific requirements of the job and the company. But rather than repeating information from your CV, grab the attention of the hiring manager by highlighting and expanding on relevant personality traits, strengths and experience.

Make it personal

Say why you want the job and/or why you’re keen to work for the organisation. Perhaps you’re a perfect match for the role, or you’re impressed by the company’s reputation for great products, services or innovation. If you sound genuinely enthusiastic, you stand a much better chance of wowing the hiring manager. Rather than a formulaic “I am applying for the vacancy as advertised in …” get straight to the why with “As a sales manager with 10 years’ experience, I’d love to be considered for the position of … because …” and explain your interest.

In a recent Q&A, Scott Davidson underlines the importance of research before you start writing. He said: “A great way to demonstrate your creativity and get noticed could be in the way you research a prospective employer. So you’ve visited their website and found out what they do. Can you track down their recent press releases? Can you use networking websites such as LinkedIn to gain a greater understanding as to what the specific role contains?”

Adam Kaveney adds further advice: “The real chance to stand out is to find an interesting angle. Dig into what makes them tick. Talk about the things that make you tick, which you know will impress them.”

Your covering letter is a great opportunity to let your personality shine through, he says. “Blend in personality traits with the skills/accomplishments that will be of interest — especially if they add extra context to your application. Adding this sort of personal information gives the reader a bigger picture than just a summary of the facts on your CV.”

Eliminate waffle and buzzwords

Avoid weak phrases like “I believe I have the necessary background and experience.” Be confident in showing how your skills and achievements will bring value.

Write as you normally speak to make your letter sound both professional and human. Or as Kaveney says, stay away from stuffy-sounding jargon.

“Often, covering letters sound bland and identical to all the others. ‘I’m a creative, resourceful individual, able to work as part of a team or on my own.’ It sounds prescriptive and dull, and doesn’t really mean anything. To get around it, show, don’t tell. So tell me about times you’ve solved a problem creatively, or a chance you’ve had to show how resourceful you can be under pressure.”

Tie together any loose ends

If you’re changing career or returning to work after a break, you can use your covering letter to explain any inconsistencies. A brief explanation might prevent your reader from coming to the wrong conclusion about gaps in your work history or job-hopping.

Always try to present any negatives in the best light possible. How has diverse experience developed your strengths?

Focus on the specifics of the role

Each covering letter should be tailored. Roles may vary in their requirements, so adjust what you write to highlight your ability to deal with the challenges of that particular role. Use the job description to help you target your letter in much the same way as you would for your CV.

If the job description has such a long list of requirements that your letter risks becoming too long, decide which are the most crucial and focus on these.

Keep it brief

Your covering letter should be a preview of your CV. Three or four short paragraphs is enough to draw out the most relevant strengths or achievements and to show how you’ve used your skills.

Keeping your letter concise and tightly focused also proves the good communication and analytical skills that most employers prize.

Adam Kaveney suggests a couple of hundred words is enough to show off who you are. Any more than that and you risk getting dull and repetitive — or sounding like you’re too pleased with yourself.

Sample covering letter format

First paragraph — lead with why you’re interested in the job

Second / third paragraphs — what makes you a strong candidate (personal characteristics, relevant experience, achievements and skills)

Fourth paragraph — address any issues, such as career change, employment gaps, personal sabbaticals, for example

Closing — ask for an interview. Give your contact details, including your email address and phone number and thank your reader for their consideration.

Thanks to The Guardian for allowing icould.com to republish this article. You can view the original version here.

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