News & Insights

POSTED Friday 02-09-22

How to Write an Effective Cover Letter – Part 1

cover letter writing header

We looked at this last summer; however, with the playing field that is executive search and recruitment constantly evolving, we felt it is appropriate to revisit this. Welcome to the 3 part mini-series blog – Effective Cover Letter Writing with Lauren, Kate and David.

Our hints and tips will help prepare you for that important application for the new trustee position you have been eyeing. Or any of our other fantastic roles on our website.

You can use many tools, and we will share our favourites at the end of this blog series’ third and final part. But, as someone who has worked on many executive search assignments, it shows when someone is flowing between conflicting advice.

There are many common mistakes, irrelevancies, and general faux-pas applicants make. Nothing that we would judge or discard their application. I see it as a chance to coach an applicant through it. I can say, hands down, that all of my colleagues are the same. The first stand-out mistake is the cover letter structure; it tends to be erratic. But fear not; together, we will go through how best to structure a cover letter. We will cover key elements; introduction, main body, and conclusion.

Pre-writing research

Before putting pen to paper or fingers to keys, you must research the organisation you’re applying to. Find out what they do, any current or past projects they’re working on, new business plans, their clients, and what kind of values they promote. Then, for your benefit, learn more about the company before you begin to lay out exactly how you would fit into their team and what you can provide for them when writing your cover letter.

Not tailoring your cover letter to the company you’re applying for is a huge mistake. It could convey a lack of interest in the role and a “template approach” perception to your employment endeavours. Furthermore, with companies now having such an online presence (websites, social media, etc.), it’s easier for you to research what they do and value – so don’t skip this step!

Furthermore, find out who you’re addressing in your cover letter; I see this more often than I like. “Dear Sir/Madam”. There is, on occasion, no other way to address your cover letter. Often, the recruiting manager is not named, and the staff answering enquiries don’t always want to confirm. They usually apply caution that you are not an actual applicant and are a cold caller looking for a decision-maker. 

Minus that infrequency using “Dear Sir/Madam” or worse, “To Whom It May Concern” comes across as template-y and impersonal or passive-aggressive. Something you would expect from a neighbour who is unhappy that you have knocked over a garden gnome. The roles that Aspen works on will always have the correct person to address the letter. But for positions you find on your own, find out who or what team will be reading your cover letter and address them appropriately. We will upload a fun example at the end of the third blog, so stay tuned. 

Your Introduction Section

Now that you’ve researched and addressed the correct person, we can move on to your introduction. The point of the intro is not to give your life story but to be direct. Explain why you’re applying specifically to this company, where you fit in, and what you can offer. 

I would even go as far as to suggest not beginning your paragraphs with ‘I’ or ‘I am; the focus should not be on yourself but your place on the broader team/company. Focus on, for instance, the values you share: employers often care more about whether you will fit into the company culture than your skills. 

Suppose there are no shared values between you and the company. In that case, it can uproot a team and potentially disrupt entire projects. However, it also shows that you’ve thought: ‘what is my mission?’ 

For example, you might be in an industry where renewables are an important development. Stress to them why you care about this. Show emphasise that you and the company’s shared beliefs and mission statements. Not only does it show that you’ve done your research. It suggests that your position on the team has longevity as you’ve proven to be an excellent cultural fit. Essential if your role is strategic. However, suppose your role is more technical. In that case, you can afford to talk more about your specific skills and how they fit the advertised position.

If you are Switching Careers or Sector

If you’re moving from one career or sector to another, acknowledge it in your intro and explain the change. Talk about the opportunities you think the company can provide you that you didn’t have access to before, and be honest about your motivations. Without addressing the change, you leave much ambiguity around your motives.

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog. We will see you again on September 16th for part 2 with Kate Kennedy.

Lauren Crichton