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How to write cover letters that grab attention

Ever wondered why you never got that call or email which you should have received after the company looked at your beautifully drafted CV which highlighted all your positive attributes? Why are you not getting any response despite blasting that three page CV which mentioned the awesome projects you have handled and all the extra-curricular activities you have undertaken to 30 different places?

What if no one opened your CV at all? What if no one feels any need to read beyond your cover letter or email?

There is a saying, that the gift is as good as its wrapping.

Why would someone say something like that?

In this context, the gift is your CV and cover letter is your gift wrap. Imagine that you are receiving dozens of gifts every day. So many gifts are of no use to you and you have room for only a few which are the best. After some time, you would not even want to open the wrapper of all the gifts to find out what is inside. You will decide whether to open or not based on the information available on the outside – which is where the quality of the wrapper comes into picture. If the wrapper is lousy chances are high that the gift inside will not be worth opening anyway.

I have been screening CVs and reading cover letters for almost 7 years now. I have seen all types of cover letters ranging from super formal to ultra-casual and sometimes ones with complete indifference towards the interest of their recipients. I have jotted down here the most common and crucial mistakes people commonly make with respect to a cover letter that will leave your application unanswered.
Pay attention to the wrapper when the person you are pursuing is likely to receive thousands of gifts.

Never mass mail

No matter how incredible it sounds, the most common mistake that I have seen students make is mass mailing their CV. Some would just cc: all the email addresses and others will do a bcc: – and both are equally bad. Over a period of time, through network of friends, or courtesy of the placement cell, students create a list of email ids of recruiters they would like to apply, and they will blast applications to this entire list. Please wake up, this is not applying, this is called spam.

What can be easier than this – an excel sheet with email addresses ready to be copy pasted. To top it off, students don’t even make the effort of sending individual emails but mark them all in one email. How do you expect to get called for an internship or a job with a start like this? Remember that you may be smart, but so are the people who will be receiving your email. Make the person who is reading your emails feel special. Write a cover letter which is addressed to them personally and not one of fifty identical letters you are sending out without thought or care. You need to demonstrate in your email that you have chosen to apply because of good reasons, not just because you had their email id. You need to show that you are special, and so is the potential employer – and if you send mass mailers, then that opportunity is completely destroyed.

First research, then write

Always do a thorough research about the company where you are sending your application and customize your application as per the organization. The only way for them to know your level of intent to intern or work with them is by knowing how well you understand their organization and why you see yourself fitting in there.

You may not have very different things to say in each email but it is important for the person reading the mail or letter to understand that you have exercised your judgment while deciding to apply there, and that you did not do so mindlessly or desperately.  If possible, make sure you have researched about the person who will likely be reading the mail, the correct name of the company, the vision and values of the organization, what you have heard about its work culture and so on. Writing a specific email will make you stand out in the crowd of very similar CVs, and a generic email will simply land you in the general masses.

Avoid being redundant

Your achievements are already there in your CV, so why include them again in your cover letter? Remember that your cover letter should complement and not duplicate your CV. Use it as an opportunity to write what cannot be included in a CV. Explain your career objectives, your achievements so far and what you plan to achieve in the future. Write why you are applying to this specific place. Remember that even if you are in your first year of college and do not have many accomplishments to show for, you have your career objectives, your reason for choosing the particular field that you are in and how you plan to achieve them. Make sure you show your understanding of the organization; have linked your aspirations with the skills required by them and the skills that you possess to be an ideal contributor to them for a period of time. Also specify what you plan to achieve with your association with them – how interning or working with them will contribute to your career objectives. Effective cover letters explain the reasons for your interest in the specific organization and identify your most relevant skills or experiences. At the end of the day, relevance will be determined by the employer’s interest and criteria but you should provide all the necessary information required by him/her to make the decision.

Read, read, read again

And before sending it read it one last time. At any cost, avoid grammatical and typing mistakes. High profiled companies reject applications the minute they see such mistakes. They just don’t proceed with the application even if there is a smallest typo or one instance of bad grammar.

The universal principle of “KISS”

Keep It Short and Simple. Avoid going round and round about the points you want to make in your cover letter. Do not use long sentences and heavy vocabulary. Do not use jargons; write a very simple, easily understandable but correct and precise language. Use your own words and not formal long-winded clichés. Focus on the clarity of your thoughts and converting them into your message for the recipient.
While writing, simply keep in mind the advice of George Orwell, an esteemed and renowned English novelist and journalist -
  • Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  • If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  • Never use the passive voice (e.g. “Bones are liked by dogs”) where you can use the active voice (“Dogs like bones”).
  • Never use jargon if you can think of an everyday equivalent.
Make it convenient

Provide the details of what you want, such as duration of internship, month, and preference of location in the end. If you want a job – specify what kind of work/ practice area/profile/ location you are looking at. Provide them with all the information at one go and not in bits and pieces. If you are not sure about the duration and month, specify that and mention options. If you are flexible with location, say so. Also provide your contact details, your LinkedIn profile at the end of the email. It will also be advisable to mention suitable days and time when you could be contacted on phone.

In the next article, I will talk about the basics of a CV – what makes and breaks it and what will make it stand apart. Trust me, like devil, God too is in the details.
- By Pallavi Pareek, Co-founder, iPleaders

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