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How to write a great cover letter and CV

A great cover letter and CV are magical things. We look at some of the things you can do to help your cover letter and CV cast a powerful spell on your prospective employer!

Now that the holidays are finally over, and we need to start remembering the days of the week again, you may be thinking it’s time to to ring in the new year with a great new job. Something about that break between opening presents, and cheering for the fireworks at midnight has probably made you think about what it would take to find another, more rewarding career.

The last few years have been challenging enough, so let’s not make things too complicated as this new year starts off. The simple answer is that to get that new job you’ve been thinking of, you need to write an outstanding cover letter, and provide a great CV. If you’re not excited by this news, give your head a gentle shake. These two tools are crucial for your career change, and spending the time crafting them well is a great opportunity to reflect on your goals and strengths, and communicate them to others. Ready?

Writing a stand-out cover letter

A great cover letter is a magical thing. And like most magical things, they take a lot of work to achieve. On a basic level, a cover letter is a formal letter that tells the company you’re applying to who you are and why you’re interested in working for them. The goal is to show the person reading your letter that you’re the right person for the job, so that they check out your CV and then invite you to an interview. 

But at the level of magic? A cover letter is a chance to tell your story, to make you stand out, and can transform your application from tedious to exciting. Writing a really good cover letter is hard, but it’s important. So let’s look at some of the things you can do to help your cover letter cast a powerful spell on a prospective employer:

Do your research

Here’s a question for you. What is a better use of your time? Sending out a hundred generic applications in the hope that an employer—any employer—will show interest, or taking the time to craft an application that is tailored to fit the job you really want? We think it’s the latter.

Start by finding out as much as you can about the company and role you are applying for. The more you can demonstrate your knowledge about the position you want, the more a potential employer will see that you are a great fit. Write sentences that show how your talents and interests match what the employer is looking for!

Make it personal

There are two sides to personalizing a cover letter. On the one hand, you want to tell your story. This is where you talk about your strengths, your values, and why the position is just what you’re looking for. Show how the person you are aligns with the company you want to work for.

And don’t forget about the person who will be reading your cover letter. Have you found out who they might be? What their name is? Finding out is as easy as making a phone call. Are there core values you share with the company? Taking the extra step to find out what they might be can make all the difference.

Keep it short

Not everyone enjoys a story that goes too long, no matter how good it is. Your cover letter should be less than one page, or about 3-4 paragraphs. Make sure you don’t just copy information from your CV, and work on writing in a warm but professional way. While it’s important to be personable and friendly, it’s critical to include only what is relevant to your application. Make sure you’re not oversharing personal information.

Proofread

Before you press the send button, make sure you check the spelling and the grammar. Give yourself enough time to walk away from your cover letter for a few hours, or even a day, so that you can read it again with fresh eyes. Get someone else to read what you’ve written, and ask them to focus on the spelling and grammar.

What about your CV?

Every CV should be a summary of your career history, your education, skills, and volunteer experience. In addition, there are obvious facts you cannot afford to forget. For example, make sure your contact details are correct! As with your cover letter, you want to make sure that you craft a custom CV that matches with the position you want.

Start strong

Start off your CV with a 1-2 sentence personal statement that tells the employer what your objective is. Remember that most employers only spend a few moments scanning the resumes and CVs they receive, so starting off with a clear and powerful statement about you and your objectives is a great way to get noticed.

Brainstorm

Before you write your CV, think about all the things you’re good at, and what you’ve accomplished so far. List them out, and pick the top skills you can back up with examples from your work history. Look at the role you are applying for, and think about the words that are used to describe the job you want. Now, go back and re-write your CV using the words you’ve found.

Ask your friends

Sure, it’s great to look at examples of CVs that turn up in your search engine results. But it’s another thing entirely to look at CVs that have been used in the real world, to get real jobs, and that are written by real people. Ask your friends or colleagues to send you a copy of their CVs, so that you’ll start to get a sense of the different sections you’ll need to include, the kind of language you should be using, and also, what fonts you should never, ever use.

Keep it professional, keep it short

If you worked in a part-time job you didn’t like, don’t overshare this information. Keep your CV focused on the skills you learned in that role. Make sure you have a professional email address that includes your first and last name. Cut out extra words, and keep the whole thing between 1-2 pages, no matter how old you are!

Proofread

Like your cover letter, double and even triple-check your spelling and grammar. If you’ve been working on your CV and cover letter all day, the chances are that you can’t see the mistakes you’ve made. And there are always mistakes. So it’s handy to have someone else look through what you’ve written. Use a standard black font (like Arial or Times).

Let the truth out

There’s lots of great things you’ve done over the years and these are what you want to focus on. If you stretch the truth, there’s a chance you’ll be asked about it at the interview stage, and that could be a disaster. Stick to the great stuff you’ve actually done!

You’ve got qualities and skills that employers are looking for. What they all want to see is that you’re up for a challenge and that you want to learn and grow. If you think you are short on relevant experience, consider signing up for an upskilling program like the ones offered by Palette Skills. Completing an exciting program like SalesCamp, for example, is a great to show a potential employer that you are motivated and ready to commit!

When you’ve put your CV and cover letter together, you can look back and feel proud of what you’ve already achieved–and where you’re headed next!

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