HOW TO WRITE A WINNING COVER LETTER THAT TELLS YOUR STORY AND BRINGS YOUR CV TO LIFE
Companies don’t hire CVs, they hire people, and first impressions do count, and never more so than in our modern world than when applying for a job. Think about it. First, the person reading your CV knows next to nothing about you. Sure, they have your CV and it tells them a lot information about you: where you studied, where you worked, languages you speak, interests you pursue, etc...
You may have even included a candid color photo with your resume. But these things do not really tell your story. Moreover, your CV is surely one among a hundred, or more, and is otherwise just a lifeless skeleton of who you really are; a skeleton that lacks flesh and blood, and so life: your life.
A person’s life, is his story. It is not a set of data points. It is who you are. So how do we write a cover letter that tells our story, and makes that skeleton of a CV come to life? The answer will depend on several factors, but the basics will always be the same. Any story has a beginning, a middle, and an end and, so should your cover letter. These should be connected in a manner that will breathe life into your CV, and so your story flows naturally.
The first paragraph of your cover letter in particular, should introduce the employer to some basic facts about you, how you came to know of the job offer, and quickly connect those facts to your interest in the position. Here, you also reference any accompanying attachments, such as a CV, a degree, or other required documents. It is vital here to try and personalize this section by including the name of the hiring manager or decision maker who will be reading your cover letter, the specific person who referred you, and your particular interest in the position.
An example of a well-written introduction follows:
My name is Natalie and I am experienced English Teacher writing to express my great interest in the University of Malaysia Foundation Programme ESL Instructor position you have advertised in eurabia.com.
Attached please find copies of my CV, Master’s degree and Teaching Certificate. Ever since visiting Malaysia as a teenager, I have dreamt of returning on a permanent basis and I believe this role offers me that possibility. Having a broad range of experience in university and foundation programmes, I offer expertise in all facets of the ESL Instructor role you have on offer and believe I would be the perfect fit.
The second part, the middle of your story, should begin quickly connecting the dots of your CV to your life experience and to the position on offer. Again, the “what,” “where” and “how” of a CV generally leaves out the “why” and remains totally lifeless until you connect it all to your current aspiration to be hired for this specific position, at this particular company. Why have you done the things you have done? What is the lasting impact of those actions, and why is that relevant to the post you are seeking?
You must connect your past experience to your present ambitions. And you must show how your knowledge, skills and experience not only makes you the perfect candidate for the post (among hundreds, or more), but also how your new company will be benefitted by hiring you.
This can be done by including actual anecdotes of positive experiences and successes you have had, as well as milestones and goals you have achieved, both for yourself and the companies you have worked for.
The basic idea is to help the decision makers conclude your past successes will translate into future ones in the specific position you are applying for. This would be an ideal spot to describe your mid to long-term career ambitions and how joining the company will help you achieve them. You are telling them the story of your life. You are a person with needs and wants, and they know this. You have thoughts, dreams and plans and so do they. Your job is to convince them that your plans and their plans are mutually inclusive, if not one and the same.
A good example might look as follows:
As you will see from the attached CV, in every role I have held, I have demonstrated a high degree of professionalism, a strong work ethic, and a commitment to maintaining the highest standards of teaching, professionalism and innovation.
To give some examples, in my first role as Head Teacher at Parler English Academy in Kent, I successfully contributed to the achievement of the academy’s certification as a Cambridge examination centre and led the teaching team there to create more offline and online content in one year than the academy had produced in its entire 10 year history. At International House, I led a working group of teachers to create an IELTS and Cambridge resource room that was later endorsed and used by other branches of the franchise. Finally, at the University of Exeter, I taught a foundation programme that had the best graduation rate and IELTS average scores in the university’s history. At the University of Malaysia, I look to
continue my trajectory as a successful ESL instructor and go on to greater things, including enrolling in a Ph.D programme in Advanced Linguistics, with a focus on integrating 21 st century skills into the university’s foundation programme curriculum.
Finally, you should close by restating your interest in the position and request an interview to further explain how you, as a person and a professional, are the best candidate for the job. Again, you want to connect the dots for them, appear likeable and flexible, and so you let them know you welcome the opportunity to meet and will make yourself available at their earliest convenience. Finally, you thank them in advance for considering your application and let them know also that you look forward to meeting with them.
Here is a good closing paragraph:
I am sure you have many applicants for this post, but I am also certain that, if given the opportunity, you will come away from an interview with me knowing that I am the right person for the role. To this end, I look forward to meeting with you to further discuss this opportunity and how I can add value to Zhejiang University in this exciting role. If offered the position, I am prepared to immediately begin the visa application process in order to eliminate any delays in beginning work. For now, I thank you in advance for considering my application and look forward to speaking to you at your earliest convenience.
To conclude, and to help you put the above sample letter into context, below is Natalie’s CV for this cover letter. Applying for a post is the first step in a potentially life altering event. May this tutorial/article help you tell your story, give life to your CV, and land you the job that will change your life.