What Makes a Good Cover Letter?

Job hunters know that a good cover letter will help them get an invitation to interview. 

But what makes a good cover letter?

We see a lot of cover letters and they’re often the polite telling of the candidate’s working life (in chronological order) or enthusiastic listing of their professional super powers.

But we often wonder if they’ve considered the hiring manager and what he or she is actually looking for?

Let’s be blunt: Hiring managers are only interested in your personal story or your skills and experiences if they are relevant to the role they’re trying to fill.

So if you load up your cover letter with a whole lot of stuff that is not relevant to the job, even if you think it sounds great, then you’re running the risk that they’ll get confused or bored or just not realise or even overlook how you might be a good match for the position.

The result?  No invitation to interview, which means your cover letter was a failure (not that you are a failure).

So, we recommend that you keep these three questions in mind when writing your cover letter:

  1. Do you have the necessary skills to perform the role effectively or could you learn them quickly?
  2. Do you have the necessary experience to perform the role effectively or could you build that quickly?
  3. Are you likely have the motivation to perform the role effectively and will you sustain that motivation for at least 2 years?

Why keep these questions in mind?  Because these are the questions that the hiring manager will probably be thinking when reading your cover letter and it’s a golden opportunity for you to answer them directly.

But how do you know what they’re looking for?

It should be right there in the job description, probably at the top of Essential Skills and Experiences (Tip: Focus on the dot points in the JD that look like someone has thought about it before writing it, because this would be something they actually want.  You can probably ignore the part about them needing a team player because every JD asks that).

Next do some research.  Go to the institution’s website and experience their social media to get a sense of how they’re trying to position themselves in your markets and how their employees project that (Are they conservative or fun loving? This might tell you something about what they’re looking for in candidates).

Then design your cover letter. There’s a million blog posts advising on how to write a cover letter, so we recommend you get Googling and find a template that you like and that you think will provide you with a nice format for answering those 3 big questions.

But in the meantime, below is a sample cover letter that is designed to answer those questions directly.  You’ll see that here we have stated, based on the job description, what we think the institution wants, and then stated how we have what they want, which if you think about it, pretty much guarantees that we’ll get an interview.

Good luck!

Dear Hiring Manager,

I am writing to apply for the position of In-Country Representative at your institution.

I have read the job description and understand that you are seeking a person with a strong sales record, social media marketing skills and experience working with agents in X, Y and Z countries.

In the past 5 years I have represented A and B institutions and in each year I met the objectives and exceeded the targets set for me.

In my role at A Institution, I was responsible for student recruitment in X country and at B Institution I was in charge of X and Y countries. Whilst I have not worked in Z country, I believe that my approach to sales is easily transferrable and I will be able to build up agent connections quickly, especially if the institution has established relationships (I am also skilled at starting from scratch, which I did at A Institution).

Though a small part of my role at B Institution involved social media marketing, I found it interesting, and have since enrolled in an online course to further develop my skills.

I have consulted with colleagues, as well as studied your institution’s website and social media presence, and I believe your institution has a strong value proposition for X, Y and Z markets, and I would be proud to be an advocate for you in each market.

Personally, I feel that this position is an ideal fit for me at this stage of my career.  Whilst I am confident that I can do the job from day one, I can see that it would offer me the chance to learn and grow as a student recruitment professional and further advance my career.

Overall, you’ll find me to be passionate and professional in-country representative and I would be grateful to receive the opportunity to interview.

Yours faithfully,
The Candidate