Cover Letter: A First Impression
A few months into my unemployment phase last year, there were still no signs whatsoever of my family finally giving me my trust fund, and us laughing about it at every family gathering thereafter. The trophy wife requests weren’t coming in either. I was broke. The sad truth was staring me in the face – it was time to get look for a job.
The employment situation among the youth (who are the bigger population) in Uganda is so dire that it is often referred to as the unemployment situation. I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t scared. It just happens that that wasn’t the scariest situation I had been in. Regardless, I needed a job, and I so began my journey to find one.
My actions after this were the usual; pray, set up notifications on websites that advertise jobs, tell anyone who will listen that I am looking for a job, pray some more, apply for more jobs than I can remember, refresh my email every 5 minutes, pray some some more and wait. The waiting is the worst part. Okay, may be not the worst part. The worst part is when I’d receive an email that says, ‘Dear Pearl, we regret to inform you…’ It usually took me a few hours to understand what was being said after ‘regret’.
This seems sad apart from the part where I got a job. So I am okay, unless someone wants to send Mobile Money in which case, I am not okay.
While I was applying for a thousand jobs per day, I found it easier to use one cover letter template and simply change the date and company name. And this is a trap that many people fall into. Think of it this way, do you behave the same way at an office party, family party, and party with peers? The honest answer is no. This is not to say that you are pretending but there are parts of you that are unknown to certain circles for whatever reason.
The same is the case for a cover letter. Even if you are applying for the same job position in different companies, by virtue of the fact that those companies are different in how they run their operations, their size, or even the job descriptions for the position means that the same cover letter cannot appeal to all of them. It’d be a shame if the company it appeals to is the one that doesn’t choose you.
The second trap is using cover letter templates off Google that I can guarantee the interviewers can recite in their sleep. They usually begin with ‘I am writing to apply for blah blah’ which by the way you have probably already made clear earlier on in the letter.
Imagine you are the Human Resource Manager that has to review CVs and cover letters, and 9/10 of them are ridiculously similar, would you put your letter in the ‘hire’ pile? You are literally dying to get a job, you are lucky to have found a job advert in your area of expertise, do you really want to leave a ‘copy and paste’ impression? It’d be ironic if somewhere in there you are boosting about your creativity. I can picture the Human Resources department laughing at cover letters over drinks.
I hope you get the picture; a cover letter is not only your first impression to an employer, it might be your only impression. Here’s how you can make sure it works to your advantage;
Be brief: It’s a cover letter, not a Bwo IG caption. If your letter gets into page 2, I don’t know. LOL. Seriously though, less is more.
Put bits of yourself: A lot of people might argue that formal cover letters have to follow the templates on Google. This may or may not be true but if you can, include something that is unique to you, without crossing the line to informal. If you are in the creative industry, you probably have the option to use a more informal ‘letter’; be it a video or audio. This personalization adds some oomph to your cover letter and tells a story that might make you stand out.
Show what you bring to the table: A lot of the time, applicants will talk about how getting the position will take their career to the next level, and what not, which basically doesn’t show why you should be hired. Use your experience to show why you would be a valuable addition to the company. Examples:
- Be specific: Instead of using generic cliché terms like team player, show an example of how you were a team player. If it is a leadership position, give examples of when you were a team/project leader and how you went about it.
- Give measurement where possible: If you are applying for a sales job, give examples of sales targets that were met, and if these were met before the deadline, even better, state that as well. If it is a distribution job, indicate how when you distributed a product exceptionally.
Have someone read your letter: You probably have someone that you talk to about your career life, if you don’t, you should think about getting one. Have that person read the letter and share their thoughts, and or edits. If you have no one, read the letter out loud; this helps you spot errors that you might have missed.
I don’t know about you, but if these are the type of cover letters people are writing, I’d like to join some application review boards. If you are an employer or know one that is looking for someone to join their application review boards, please consider.
Also, if this is somewhat different from the cover letters you write, please try this and let me know which one you prefer. If you can share with me both versions, for purely research purposes of course, that would be great (firstname.lastname@example.org)
If you need someone to read through your cover letter, feel free to drop an email as well.