20 Tips for a Successful Cover Letter


An essential element of a valid application , the letter of motivation meets certain rules. Like the CV, it must provide some important information, explain the strengths of the candidate and arouse the curiosity of the recruiter. As many codes that it is better to master in order to put all the chances on its side and get theinterview so desired. Whether it is a letter in response to a job offer or a spontaneous application letter.

To highlight these imperatives, the Journal du Net has submitted a selection of readers’ cover letters to professional recruiters. Through their analyses and their critiques, they deliver their advice.

 Your chances of success with recruiters are not proportional to the length of your text, far from it. A two-page cover letter is too long, says Michel Bouffard, Director of Resources and Skills at Manpower. Even with a good resume, I’ll eliminate it. This is even more true when the candidate is just out of school and has no real experience. A 45-year-old senior executive can possibly take the risk of going a little longer than a 23-year-old student.

A candidate has to imagine the work of a recruiter beset by mail. We spend a minute, a minute and a half on a CV and a cover letter,” says Grégory Herbé, associate director in charge of Technology companies at Mac Allister. A 40-line letter is sorely lacking in synthesis, I don’t even read it.

Unlike the CV, the cover letter is a literary exercise in which style and level of language play a major role, whether or not it is a spontaneous application letter. Depending on the jobs you apply for, you must adopt a more or less supported language,” says Grégory Herbé. Reading an application for the position of supply chain Manager, he feels that the level of French is good but that it could be a little more supported.

Conversely, Thierry Verdier, founder of 1001 Talents, believes that a health, safety and environment technician in the retail sector should avoid any pompous writing (example opposite). An overly academic style contrasts with a sector that is particularly resistant to administrative language. So choose the language of your profession and take care of it.

While it is customary to end a cover letter with a polite phrase, it is sometimes difficult to find the right balance between necessary courtesy and overemphasis. Grégory Herbé thus appreciates the politeness formula which is not too round (example opposite). The recruiter and the candidate are at the same level. We mustn’t add to it. Therefore banish the convoluted formulas as I have the honour to ask you for an interview …

So it’s best to keep it polite but simple. But a cover letter is a letter that includes the codes of the paper documents. Expressions such as cordially, very present in the emails, do not find their place there. Unless you know the recipient personally.

Not everyone is good at spelling and grammar. However, the cover letter must be irreproachable in this respect. Some clients of my recruitment agency refuse to receive a candidate if there is even one mistake in the letter, says Thierry Verdier. An inflexibility that can lead to overlooking very good profiles. These requirements are all the more important for professions (communication, sales, etc.) for which writing is an essential part of their know-how.

So take the time to check the spelling of your cover letter. If need be, have it read by a relative who has a perfect command of the rules of French. The credibility of your application is well worth the effort.

Admittedly, a candidacy is not judged solely on the aesthetics of a document. But the general overview of the letter necessarily influences the image that the recruiter has of a candidate. You have to avoid too dense letters,” advises Michel Bouffard. Put yourself in the shoes of a recruiter who receives the CV and the cover letter at the same time, if he or she finds breadcrumbs in it, he or she is not going to read it. Implacable, Grégory Herbé judges: a letter with an obvious lack of synthesis, I don’t even read it.

Avoid texts or paragraphs that are too heavy glued together. This does not make it easier to read. It’s better to write a smaller text for the same text, but airing out the page, than to use a larger font with no spaces,” says Bouffard.

In theory, that goes without saying. A cover letter (letter in response to a job offer or spontaneous application letter), to be successful, must be particularly clear to the reader. So banish the convoluted formulations that, trying too hard to impress the recruiter, lose it in the meandering proposals that follow one after the other. At the risk of getting people to react: reading the sentence opposite, Michel Bouffard notes : I don’t even know what sport he plays. In this case, do not rely too much on the perseverance of the recruiter to decipher your over-coded message. It is up to you to be perfectly clear in your formulations.

To limit the risk of losing your reader, the first reflex is to limit the size of your sentences. Sentences that exceed two lines should be avoided, adds Michel Bouffard. Otherwise, it becomes difficult to retain the entire message.

To maximize the impact your letter will have on the recruiter, it must be accurate in the information you provide. We must avoid too generic, too superficial letters,” advises Michel Bouffard on the example opposite. An applicant who writes that they have carried out major projects should provide figures, for example in terms of budget or man-days. GregoryHerb confirms : The figures are significant, especially in certain sectors, such as IT services companies.

Consequently, it is absolutely necessary to ban the boat formulas that are found in too many cover letters. Be concrete and don’t try to drown the fish with empty phrases (this is especially the case in unsolicited application letters). The seasoned recruiter will not be mistaken: too many banal formulas will certainly serve you well in his eyes.

In a cover letter, you don’t have to be too transparent. Certain information is not intended to be printed in black and white in this document, which is intended to present you in the best possible light. Reading a letter (example opposite), Thierry Verdier exclaims We understand that his problem is to find a job at all costs! This necessarily casts doubt on his motivation for the job in question.

Similarly, some candidates justify their preference for a position by the proximity of the company to their home. Except in the case where great availability is required, it’s madness to write that,” continues the founder of 1001 Talents. Even if working close to home is an appreciable comfort, it is not an argument to be provided to the recruiter. On the contrary…

Most of the time, cover letter and CV are sent simultaneously to the recruiter. And if these two documents are required, it is not to give the same information. A letter of motivation is not an explanation of a CV, says Grégory Herbé, referring to the example opposite. The idea is not to retell your educational and professional background, normally detailed on the curriculum vitae.

Thus, there is no need to recall the baccalaureate obtained or successive employers, but rather to make your profile consistent with the desired position. Your background must provide the pretext to put forward your application. Talking about the clients you’ve worked with can be interesting if you have to find them in your new job,” says Thierry Verdier.

One of the recurring shortcomings is that the cover letter only mentions the candidate’s profile, background and qualities. Forgetting that a cover letter must also highlight the company that will potentially recruit you. If you don’t know the company well, it is absolutely necessary to go and consult its website, to find elements of strategy and figures,” advises Thierry Verdier. And this also applies to unsolicited application letters.

Some candidates recite what they know about themselves without relating it to what the company might get out of it,” continues the recruiter. In the end, this type of application, focused on the person, gives the impression, unpleasant for a recruiter, that it could be sent to a dozen companies by changing three words.

When the cover letter echoes a job offer, it is best to take the trouble to meet the requirements presented. It is very clever to underline, by referring to the advertisement, the elements that have caught your motivation on which you base your added value believes Michel Bouffard. Show the coherence of your profile and your background with the key points of the position.

Nor should this result in a full repetition of the announcement, which the person reading your letter knows rather well. You have to be content with making the link between what is described in the profile you are looking for and your personal profile,” says Michel Bouffard.

When writing your cover letter, keep in mind that it is always best to be sensitive to your reader’s sensibilities. You have to know how to be assertive, show self-confidence without appearing too haughty,” says Grégory Herbé. When you are planning your future position, prefer the conditional to the indicative or even imperative : the recruiter must not feel that his hand is being forced.

Similarly, when talking about your potential role in the structure, be careful to remain humble, even if you talk about your skills. We must avoid appearing as a lecturer, as someone who has very high self-esteem,” adds Michel Bouffard.

 It is sometimes tempting for a recruiter to let you know the salaries at which you would like to be recruited. But the exercise can be perilous. In general, it is best to avoid mentioning it in thecover letter, advises Michel Bouffard.

However, two exceptions justify this mention in the application. Firstly, when these salary claims are expressly requested on the advertisement. In this case, it can even be dangerous not to provide them,” says Michel Bouffard. Lack of clarity on this point may discourage a recruiter from going further. In the second case, it may be a good idea to write it down in black and white if you are overwhelmed by offers: this will save you from wasting time with recruitments that you will end up refusing for financial reasons.

Writing a rich and convincing cover letter can be complicated when you are just out of higher education. Professional experience, which is necessarily limited, reduces the possibilities of enhancing one’s career. In general, Young People talk too much about theirdiploma,” explains Grégory Herbé. But they should also talk about the projects they have carried out in and out of school. The aim is to go beyond the information available in the CV.

Above all, one should not compensate for one’s limited professional experience with a particularly long letter. A recruiter looking for a junior is fully aware of his or her short career path: there’s no point in flooding it with an extended letter.

When applying for a particular job, the use of certain keywords is important. Well chosen, they will be an undeniable asset in the eyes of recruiters. Your cover letter is often read diagonally and some words strike the mind more than others. They can help to identify your profile, as in the example opposite, or highlight your knowledge of the jargon of your profession. Moreover, in recruitment agencies, search engines find these documents using certain words, warns Thierry Verdier.

But we must also avoid the opposite, i.e. threading certain keywords without real depth. Your text should bring out your personality and the way you argue remains important.

When replying to an advertisement, one should send one’s cover letter and CV either to a recruitment agency or directly to the company concerned. The exercise is broadly similar. But these two types of readers will not necessarily pay attention to the same details.

When you contact a recruitment agency, the most important thing is to validate the points in the ad to meet the demand of the company that is recruiting, explains Grégory Herbé who works at Mac Allister. On the other hand, when the letter is addressed directly to the Human Resources department, it may be useful to refer a little more to the company or brand in question.

Very often, a job offer is characterized by a reference. This may be a series of numbers and letters, at first glance rather esoteric, but which the recruiter needs to sort and classify the applications. It’s very good to put the reference of the ad or even the site where you saw it when you write a cover letter,” says Thierry Verdier. The latter, which is harmless, is likely to be of interest to recruiters.

Similarly, do not hesitate to specify if a telephone contact has already taken place between you and the recruiter. The latter will place you more easily among the mass of applicants.

 It is a decision that seems trivial but it is important. Once your letter has been written, you should send it, usually by e-mail, to the recruiting company or the firm in charge of the position. CV and cover letter are then attached. Naming them well is vital.

Sometimes when the case is heard, you are asked to use the job reference. Most often, the simplest approach is to adopt a heading such as: First-Name-Name-Letter of Motivation.doc. Above all, avoid sending me documents entitled Manpower cover letter,” explains Michel Bouffard, who works for this company. This requires us to rename them to differentiate them.

The exercise of the cover letter remains very constrained and leaves little room for originality, particularly in terms of presentation. However, when reading a cover letter presented in the form of a brochure and intended for a position as communication officer for a large NGO (example opposite), Thierry Verdier shows himself to be flexible. In this very special setting, it can help to explain that you are part of the same community. But it is also necessary, beyond the mere presentation, that this originality be found in the text.

Still, in general, a rather sober presentation will probably be your best asset. A fortiori if you work in the financial or legal world.

The cover letter remains above all a literary exercise, with its sentences, verbs and paragraphs. And the use of bullets or dashes is intended more for the layout of the CV than for writing a cover letter. The same thing can generally be written in a less abrupt way, Judge Grégory Hérbé, by making paragraphs with verbs and transitions.

By using this kind of editing process, you run the risk of getting the recruiter ticked off. But this will not necessarily be a disadvantage if you are applying, for example, for a financial or accounting job. More so if your position requires serious writing skills.

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