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The 4 “why”s to make your cover letter awesome

By EthicalJobs.com.au founder Michael Cebon

Are you applying for lots of jobs but not getting the interviews you want? The problem could well be with your cover letter. It’s often the first impression that a recruitment manager gets of you, so if it doesn’t make a great impression, you’re much less likely to get a chance at an interview.

We’re expanding the EthicalJobs.com.au team, which means that we’re reading lots of cover letters, and to be honest with you, many have missed the mark.

The problem seems to be that many people think a cover letter is just a summary of their CV – a listing of the places they’ve worked, the tasks they’ve done, and maybe the big successes they’ve had.

Unfortunately, that’s totally wrong.

If you spend your whole cover letter talking about yourself, you’ll miss the opportunity to express why you’re interested in the role and organisation that’s advertising it. And those are two of the things that recruitment managers are most interested to know.

I’ve read literally hundreds of cover letters that spend a full page talking about the how amazing the applicant is, but not a single word about why they want to do the job I’m advertising.

A few years ago I wrote about some of the basics you 100% need to be doing when you write your cover letter, including:

  • Make it short and sweet
  • Show your personality
  • Make it specific to the job, not generic

Having read many hundreds more cover letters since then, I’d like to suggest four more essential things that I’m looking for when I’m reading your cover letter:

1. Why you?

This is the easiest part, and the one bit that you’re probably getting right already. It’s a short sales pitch for why you’re the perfect candidate for the job.

Remember though: Short. It shouldn’t just be a long list of the jobs or tasks you’ve done.

To nail this section, write just two or three sentences to answer the question: Why are you the best person for this job?

2. Why this job?

So enough about you. Time to talk about about the job you’re apply for.

What’s attracted you to the job? What excites you about it?

What in your personal and professional history has lead you to be interested in doing the work you’re applying to do?

People love stories about people, and when I’m recruiting someone I might be working next to for 38 hours a week for years, I want to know why you’re interested in doing this job, and not some other one.

Maybe it was your childhood dream to do this job. Maybe an experience with a family member or friend or mentor or a teacher started you on the journey to doing this work.

Maybe you only discovered that this was an actual job when you saw the job ad on the site.

Whatever your motivation, whatever your story, there’s a reason why you’re attracted to this job in particular – and when I’m recruiting, that’s what I want to know.

3. Why this organisation?

When you’re applying for a job, you’re not just applying to do particular work, you’re also (usually) applying to join a team and a larger organisation.

So tell me about what’s attracted you to apply to be a part of my team and my organisation.

What resonates with you about what my organisation is doing, as opposed to the thousands of others you could be applying to work in? And how do your personal passions fit with the mission or activities of the organisation?

4. Why now?

Lastly – and this brings the focus back to you – why is now the right time for you to be working in this organisation and this job?

If you’ve decided to leave your current job, tell me what’s prompted that? (without bad-mouthing your current employer!)

Or if you’re currently unemployed, tell me about what it would mean to you to get back into employment right now.

Why is now the right time to be hiring you?

Your cover letter is only one part of your job application – but it’s a universally important one. So if you can nail these four things, and keep your cover letter still under a page, you’ve got a much better chance at making the shortlist, and getting the chance to impress your future employer in an interview!


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