As part of my job here at UTS, I often shortlist students on behalf of organisations for paid positions, which can be exclusive to UTS. Through this I have seen a disconnect in what students expect a cover letter to look like, and what employers expect to see in a cover letter for a specific role.
We’ve been told over and over that we need to tailor our cover letters for each role to show the organisation that we want to work for them and showcase our skills to show that we are the ideal candidate. But what exactly do the hiring managers expect to see?
The answer is that they expect what 90% of candidates fail to do: address the selection criteria of the role! The selection criteria isn’t in the job advertisement to fill up some space, it’s there for a very important reason – the ideal candidate will possess all the skills and traits listed! You may look at this list and think “oh yeah, I have those traits, I’m perfect for this role”… But very few actually acknowledge those traits in the cover letter to show that they are the perfect candidate for the role.
I often see cover letters come through that are so generic, it’s obvious that the candidate has used the same cover letter for 10 other roles this week. Sure, the name of the role has been changed (although I get at least two per week that are for a completely different role because the candidate has forgotten to update it!), but the reasons of why the candidate is the best person for the role, based on what an employer has asked for, is not apparent. Instead, generic traits that the employer has not described as key attributes of the role are noted. And I hate to break it to you, but most hiring managers will bin these cover letters. Hiring managers like to tick off competencies, without having to do too much digging! For instance, if they have five selection criterion, and you address all five, you’re more likely to be invited to the next stage of the application process than someone who sent in a generic cover letter.
And do not get me wrong, your cover letter still needs to address why you’re interested in the role, what makes the organisation special, why you’re the most ideal candidate, and what you’ll contribute, as a previous blog post suggests. Check out the template below to see how to incorporate it all into a one-page cover letter!
Yes, it will take time, but once you start personalising the cover letters, showing hiring managers that you are actually interested in the role and working for their particular organisation, you will start to see more traction on your applications. The key to stopping applying for jobs becoming your full-time job? Only apply for jobs that you are really interested in!
Okay, so you know what you need to do, but can’t find a section of the advertisement titled ‘selection criteria’? Employers can be sneaky and they may not call the selection criteria, ‘selection criteria’. Keep a look out for different headings such as:
- The ideal candidate will have…
- Requirements of the Role
- Essential/Desired Attributes
Sometimes there will be no selection criteria whatsoever for an advertised role. This is generally the case for graduate programs, or if you’re cold calling an organisation. If this is the case, then you may find this workbook to be of assistance in writing a cover letter. But I must stress, only use this if there is no selection criteria in the advertisement!
Generally, employers will put their most desired skills or traits at the top of the list. Once you start looking at them, you will notice that the most desired traits are often soft skills, which most people would possess. The key is explaining how you obtained/developed/refined the skills or traits. You can use experiences from anywhere, whether it be an internship, part-time work, a volunteer role, university, or even clubs.
Here’s the complicated part: it needs to fit on one page because most hiring managers will not read anything past the first page!
The trick to being able to address all of the selection criterion AND stick to the one-page limit is to play with your page margins, and group criterions together. For example, an opportunity may ask for good time management skills and the ability to prioritise tasks. Can you think of a single example in your experience, which incorporates these two criterions?
“As a current final year, Distinction average YYY student at the University of Technology Sydney, an Administrator at XYZ, and the Secretary of the XXX Society, I have to manage my time wisely to meet deadlines and complete all tasks required of me. I do this through prioritising my time appropriately and effectively to complete university assignments that will achieve a grade to suit my high expectations, and prioritise tasks at XYZ and at the XXX Society, so that they are adequately completed on time, and to the company/Society’s standards.”
In one paragraph, you have managed to tick off two criterion, maybe even five, depending if the opportunity requests that you be in a specific year, maintaining a certain WAM, and in a certain course! There’s no right or wrong number of criterion to group together, the only golden rule is to stick to one-page!
So next time you’re applying for an opportunity, don’t let your application land in the bin! Remember to address the selection criteria outlined in the advertisement to allow the hiring manager see how you are the best candidate for the role. If you want to double check that you’re addressing the selection criteria adequately before sending off your application, print off your cover letter and the job advertisement, and take it along to Drop-In. One of the friendly Recruitment Advisors can look over it, and give you feedback.
And here it is: the cover letter template!
City, State Post Code
Contact’s Job Title (if known)
City, State Post Code
Day Month, Year
Dear Mr./Ms./Dr. Last Name, or Hiring Manager (if unsure of person hiring),
Re: Job Title and Reference Number if Applicable
Opening paragraph: Clearly state why you are writing. If you were referred to the position from someone within the organisation, or by someone the addressee knows, mention that as well.
Second paragraph: You want to express your specific motivation for applying to this organisation. This is your chance to relate your interests and experience to what the organisation does, why you’re interested in the role, what makes the organisation special, why you’re the most ideal candidate and what you’ll contribute
Middle paragraphs: ADDRESS SELECTION CRITERIA. Elaborate on how you have developed the relevant skills required for the job, and any relevant experiences or education you have acquired (how do you know it’s relevant? It’s listed as a requirement of the role). Providing an examples help you emphasise your relevance.
Closing paragraph: Reiterate your skills and how you think this makes you a good fit for the position. Thank them for their time and consideration of your application.
Dara is passionate about helping UTS students achieve their career goals, and has a strong background in customer service, human resources and the higher education sector. Currently working as a Recruitment Administrator at UTS:Careers, Dara connects UTS students with industry through sourcing and advertising quality internships and opportunities.
Featured image courtesy of Unsplash