I have been involved in the shortlisting and recruitment of numerous staff in to both humanitarian and development positions. I have reviewed an incredible number of job applications. One thing that has really hit me is that not many applications I have reviewed have really impressed me. This post forms part of the career series being published on Women in Aid. If you want to contribute a post to this series please get in contact with us by emailing info(at)womeninaid.com.
Below are some of my top tips based on my own experience. I welcome comments from others on how they have approached writing cover letters and job applications.
1. Firstly, DO write a cover letter if it is asked for. An amazing number of people who have applied for jobs I have recruited to have simply not done this. I think some people think that a simple email is enough. It is not. Write a cover letter and write it well. Read the tips below.
2. “Lean in” and sell yourself with a touch of bravado. Write confidently about what you have done. Delete any “we” sentences (e.g. we won a proposal for $2million). The recruiters want to know what you as an individual have brought to previous positions and what you will bring to the position you have applied for if successful.
3. Clearly write why you want the job and why NOW is the right time for you to do it. Recruiters want you to have thought through why the position you are applying for is a good fit for your current skill level, your experience to date and your future plans. They want to know the same for the organisation you are applying for. Write this clearly within an opening paragraph to the cover letter.
4. Explain how you meet the person specification (as listed on the job advert) one by one and with examples. The simplest way of doing this is by inserting a table in to the cover letter, with one column showing the person specification listed by the employer and a second column which is information of how you meet the criteria (see example below). You can also answer each criterion with paragraphs. If you are doing this make sure to clearly signpost or highlight how you are meeting each criterion (e.g. by putting their words in bold). This will make it easy for recruiters to shortlist you.
|Person Specification||Evidence of My Experience|
|3 years of senior management experience.||As you can see from my attached CV I have worked as a senior manager for the following organisations: x, y and z, for a total of 6 years. My senior management experience is especially relevant for this job as much of my experience has been within the humanitarian sector and with similar sized organisations.|
|Extensive experience of budget development.||For the last ** years the roles I have been employed in have involved budget development and management. I have developed budgets both at the organizational level and for specific donor funded projects.|
5. State the obvious. You may be writing your application in English, have been born in America and have a degree from an Australian University, but if the person specification asks for fluency in English be sure to write this. It may seem a little silly, but it is so important to not make recruiters guess or assume anything. Many of the modern shortlisting techniques prevent or limit the degree to which people are allowed to assume, so make sure you write the obvious!
6. Put all information in to the language of the organisation you are applying for. All organisations talk about things in quite different ways. Be sure to look through the organisations website and to work out how they talk about things. Do they talk about fundraising or business development? Do they talk about programme management or portfolio management? Ensure that your experience on both your CV and cover letter is tailored to the organisation.
7. Do not include a photograph. There is simply no need to include a photograph (or your age, or marital status, or your religion or any other personal details). All of these things only open you up to potential scrutiny that is not appropriate when applying for a job. This information is not relevant so don’t include it.
8. Do list which countries you have worked in, but be sure to highlight the country experience you have that is RELEVANT to the post you have applied for. A long list of countries is great, but if you’re applying for a job in Laos and have never worked in South East Asia before, you may want to describe why you think you’ll be able to adapt to this new culture. You’ll also definitely want to research and prepare for a question on the Laos culture for your interview.
9. Keep it concise. I don’t believe in “one page” limits or anything like that, as I believe that answering the criteria is the most important thing. However, it is important to write concisely and in punchy sentences. Write the cover letter and then ask someone to review it and specify that you want help to cut down sentences. Don’t cut substance just to fit it on to one page though!
And when you do get the job you might want to re-read last weeks post on negotiation!