A cover letter is the most difficult and one of the most important parts of a job application. There are more and more applicants for the same job, the personal letter is becoming more important than ever. The personal letter is the first and in many cases the only one that the employer or recruiter reads.
The differences between the people applying for a job are often very small in terms of formal competence, i.e. what education you have completed and what experiences you have. On the other hand, what can set you apart from others who are looking for the same job are, for example, your personal qualities, your goals and your ambitions. This is where the personal letter comes in.
In addition to clarifying your application, the personal letter is the part of the application that can show who you are and add personality. There is room for humor, stories and in-depth study if you like.
The letter helps you to control expectations and answer objections in advance. It is your most important opportunity to focus on what you believe makes you a unique candidate. The more energy you put into the personal letter, the more the chances increase that you will move on to the job interview.
Research shows that we humans tend to be drawn to opportunities and potential. It’s not for everything amazing you’ve done before that you’ll get a job. But for all the new amazing things you will do. Although what we have done is part of showing what we can do, we clearly also need to communicate future and potential.
One of the success factors for a strong personal letter is to demonstrate potential.
Unfortunately, it is common to write that one’s goal is that one wants to “benefit from the education” or “use previous experiences and qualities”. Almost always when you write, you do it because you have seen others do it, it is a cliché. But think about it, what does your prospective employer say? So you want a job just because you happened to read a certain line? Since you have certain qualities and experiences, it’s just as good that you use them, even though you might want to do something completely different, right? Unfortunately, it’s a bit like saying you want to drive someone’s car just because you have a driver’s license – not very convincing.
One goal is not to use knowledge you already have, it is to learn something new or achieve something you have not achieved before: that you have a direction (a goal is not a goal if you already have it, right?) We test which of these two goal formulations do you think your employer would like to see:
“I have now studied accounting and would like to use that knowledge with you.”
“I want to work with accounting so that I can develop my knowledge towards working with consolidated accounts and large cash flows.”
The first wording signals stagnation, that you are satisfied and not very committed. The second shows goals, potential and ambition.
Direction is therefore important, but passion then? Well, passion can also be an important part of a goal. It does not have to be, but it often is and is also an attractive part of an objective from an employer’s perspective. Imagine we are adding the following sentence to our second option above:
“I have always loved handling large numbers, I find it easy to find discrepancies, which makes me think it is very fun to work with…”
Your goal statement is no longer “I have the right education, give me a job now” but more “I have a direction and passion for this that will benefit you”.
Resist the temptation to write a standard wording when writing your personal letter, but instead write a wording that has direction (and preferably passion).
In order for your personal letter to be credible, you need to state that you really have what the role requires. On the one hand, you need to give an idea that you meet the formal requirements for the service. First, you need to show that you can achieve results. On the one hand, you need to provide credible descriptions of your personal qualities. Education and experience are part of this, but you must also tell who you are as a person in your professional role. the “other” hand?
Use your qualities to describe who you are and what you can achieve thanks to them. Keep in mind that a trait is not the same as a skill. A quality is something that you are, not something that you can.
By linking results to your characteristics, you create a more credible image. It is your unique qualities that have created the results you have previously achieved – not chance or luck. If you have clear, concrete results you have achieved, state them. Look back at your previous services and ask yourself if there were any goals when you started and how they were achieved, or how it was different when you left compared to when you started.
It does not always have to be stated goals, but can also be in the form of, for example, streamlining, improved relationships with other departments, a high workload, good results or something else that you are extra proud of.
How to get started
Just start writing without having a thought about whether it is worded correctly or if it is a good start. Get what you want to say and get help from your words of support. Completely ignore the structure and finish.
Sometimes it can be difficult to write if you do not know who you are writing to. Therefore, try to figure out who will read your personal letter. Maybe it’s already in the ad? Maybe you can look at the company’s website and find an HR manager? If you get a face and a name for a person, it often feels much easier. Then you will subconsciously or consciously write the letter to him or her. If you do not find the person you think will read your personal letter, you can find a person and imagine that you write to that person instead.
Once you have got what you want to say, you have a first draft to work on from.
At this point, do not worry about it being perfect, or even good. Expect that you will still throw away most of what you write. Just make sure that there is some valuable content in everything you write, and we will hone in the next steps.
When you are done
A personal letter is easily too long, but should not be longer than 3-4 pieces of about 7 lines and fit on one page. Therefore, it is important to be short and concise in their messages and formulations, in order to still get what you want to convey.
When you have finished your personal letter, you should therefore go back and make sure that you avoid repetitions or lengthy explanations. Make sure it is as short as possible, but that you still get what you want to say. It is more difficult than it sounds because you want to tell everything that is to your advantage for the job you are looking for, but the truth is that you rarely hear anything when you say too much. You probably recognize the concept of “I do not see the forest for all the trees that are in the way”, which can be applied to an application to the highest degree.
Also remember to structure your personal letter so that it is both easy to follow the text and keep up with your arguments and reasoning, but also so that it is possible to navigate it if you want to go back and read about parts of it. Let each paragraph have a main argument to make it easier for the reader and make your letter clear and easy to understand.