Too many people fail to understand the importance of a cover letter. So many think that they can write one letter and use it for all their job applications without any amendment. Presumably they assume that it does not have any real importance in the job application process.

Others think they need to tailor the cover letter so they can repeat the bits of their resume that they think are the most important thing about themselves.

Wrong! On both counts.

A cover letter is not a bland polite note that nobody will take any notice of and it is not an opportunity to repeat yourself from your resume. It is not about you.

It is extremely important and should focus on the employer and the position.

A good cover letter may include you doing some research about the company you are applying to so you know something about their products and services, their vision, their attitudes. The more you know the better you can genuinely demonstrate your interest in them. This is solid ground for enthusiastically claiming that you are a good fit for their culture. Of course you need also to highlight the skills and special qualities you bring to the position and that in turn you are the right person for the job.

I remember one client who proclaimed loudly that the process would involve too much work, it was unreasonably difficult! I assured her that looking for a job entails a lot of hard work and that the cover letter can often be the deciding factor in the choice of who will be interviewed and who will not.

So what do I do if I don’t know who the employer is I hear you say. Well if you are applying for a position via a recruiter or responding to an anonymous advert, you still need a cover letter and this has a different emphasis. You must demonstrate your skills, experience and suitability for jobs of that type to make the recruiter feel comfortable that interviewing you won’t be a waste of their time and that you would be a suitable candidate to put forward. The letter needs to brief (one side of an A4 sheet), polite and informative and have no spelling or grammatical errors. It should ask for the interview and point out your readiness to be available when they need you.

You can mention that you are flexible with regard to hours/shifts, open to relocation if necessary, have a clean driving licence if it is needed, that you are a good team player or manager etc. But most importantly keep your focus on your alignment with the job requirements. If position criteria is given address these specifically, show how you can deliver on these.

We are limited to how much we can say here, but a cover letter, while being extremely important and needing to be simple in presentation, actually needs time. Get it right and you will create a very strong first impression with the employer or recruiter and we all know that you only get one chance at a first impression.