Why Cover Letters Are Back in Fashion
April 19, 2017
Cover letters were proclaimed by many to be dead not too long ago or at least diagnosed as being terminally ill. They were seen as old fashioned, with some employers saying they didn’t bother reading them at all.
Yet in life sciences, cover letters never really went out of fashion. In fact, despite the bad press, cover letters as a self-promoting strategy are in pretty good health, with an excellent prognosis for the future.
The Cover Letter and the CV are a Double Act.
Done well, the two get along famously.
The cover letter introduces the candidate and catches the attention: there’s a more personal tone to it, and it reads like a letter, which we all enjoy receiving. The cover letter is the beginning of the interview process; it opens the conversation.
The other half of the act, the CV, follows up with cold hard facts, often bullet-pointed for efficiency and impact: employer names, dates, responsibilities and results, referees.
The two, in tandem, are powerful. One without the other just doesn’t have the same impact. And a bad cover letter will see your CV floating down into the bin, or dragged and dropped into the recycle icon without a second’s thought.
Key to writing good cover letters
1. Don’t just repeat what you’ve got in your CV.
One of the reasons cover letters were thought to be on the way out is because so many candidates just repeat their CV, making the reader feel like they’re wasting their time. Use your cover letter to make a strong opening statement with highlights of your experience, followed by why you’re attracted to work for their company.
A clever candidate will have done their research and will tailor their cover letter to the organisation- for example, mentioning that you’ve wanted to work for them since they developed X drug or improved health outcomes for X demographic. Please do not just use one generic life science cover letter for all your applications, as it’s painfully obvious to the reader and reflects a lack of care.
2. Make connections
Make connections between your experience and the skill they’re looking for. Job specs will always go into detail about the skills they desire from applicants, (normally, the higher up in the job ad, the more crucial the skill is). Don’t go overboard here; you must be concise. Mention how one or two of your skills correspond with what they’re looking for and create interest for the recruiter or hiring manager to flick through to your CV.
3. Keep it short and easy to read.
Most employers prefer half a page, a page at most. A cover letter should never go over one page. Don’t be long winded, use active language, and avoid clichés (I’d love to say ‘like the plague here, but that might tarnish the message.)
A cover letter should be well formatted, with plenty of white space. This makes it impactful, while at te same time easy to read on a PC or smartphone.
4. Spell check, Grammar Check, and Name Check.
This should be wildly obvious, but cover letters are often riddled with errors so be sure to run a spelling and grammar check before sending.
Be careful if you’ve made numerous revisions to a cover letter, as that’s where mistakes often creep in, like sentences that finish nowhere and double words like ‘and and’.
It can be extremely difficult to spot certain mistakes that a spell check won’t pick up, as our eyes skim over text when we’ve read it several times, so ALWAYS give it to someone to read.
Here is something that works well; read it out. You will be surprised how easy it is to then spot those pesky typos and mistakes.
Lastly, please be careful to check the spelling of the company name and the hiring manager- one UK law firm reports that their name is spelt wrong by roughly 20% of applicants!
5. Send it as a PDF.
Traditionally, Word doc files have been recommended, but PDF has overtaken them as the most effective way to send a job application, as PDFs appears the same on any screen no matter which operating software the reader is using.
Good cover letters incite interest in the reader. They also make you stand out as a professional applicant that takes the opportunity to join an organisation seriously.
The hiring manager as they read your cover letter then finds themselves nodding, then quickly moving onto the CV to find out more detail.
Have a look at your cover letter now, and then look back at the job advert and the company website.
Ask yourself, will your cover letter have the reader nodding and interested in meeting you for an interview? If not, then your cover letter needs a rewrite.