A cover letter can be a powerful statement that makes prospective employers stand up and take notice of a job application. If you’re in your 50s or 60s, you’ll have a wealth of transferable skills and experience that’ll be of great value in many job roles. The key is to present these in a way that’ll knock the socks off your future boss.
A cover letter is a chance to speak directly to the employer and convince them that you’re the right person for the job. It’s often a deciding factor when considering which candidates will be shortlisted for an interview, so always make the most of the extra opportunity to have your voice heard.
To help get you on the pathway to success, we’ve come up with a list of useful advice so you can create a cover letter you can’t wait to share.
Use your cover letter to enhance your CV
A cover letter should go hand in hand with your CV; supporting and enhancing it, but not repeating it. It’s an opportunity to introduce yourself and give future employers a brief idea about who you are and why you want to work for them, before they decide whether or not to read your CV to find out more.
Your CV is all about you (it’s essentially a list of your skills and experience), but your cover letter is a chance to show that you’ve also thought about the company you’re applying to, and how you can help them – you essentially want to make them an offer they can’t refuse.
A cover letter really comes into its own if you’re applying for a slightly different role to the one you’ve done before, or if you want to stand out from the crowd. Almost everyone attaches a CV with a job application these days, but few people take the time to submit a good cover letter.
We know it can be hard to force yourself to write a cover letter with each job application, especially if you are sending off lots of job applications each and every week. However, not writing cover letters can end up being a false economy, as fewer employers are likely to bring you in for an interview, meaning you end up having to send off more and more applications.
Going to the effort of writing a cover letter is a great way to make a good first impression and demonstrate your proactiveness.
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Do your homework
Always tailor your cover letter to the job you’re applying for by expressing why you want to work for that company and why you want to apply for that role in particular. Whoever receives your application doesn’t want to feel like you’ve sent an identical letter to 30 other companies.
In order to convince prospective employers that you can be the solution to their problem, it’s important that you understand exactly what the company is aiming to do and what their challenges might be.
If you visit the website of most large employers, you’ll be able to gather a treasure chest of information to help you – including company values, business strategy, and what they look for in prospective employees.
Companies will be more likely to get in touch with you if they can see that you have a genuine personal interest in helping them meet future goals and targets.
Our article, 6 tips to help you research a company before a job interview, has some more advice on where to look and what to look for when researching a potential employer.
Highlight your most recent experience first
It’s important to make sure your cover letter gets straight to the point. Tell employers what you’ve been up to most recently and how this is going to help you succeed in the job you’re applying for.
Being over 50, chances are you’ve got decades of priceless skills and life experience, but it’s important to pick out only the most relevant and interesting points for the job you’re applying for.
Whoever receives your application will be sifting through hundreds of candidates and making quick decisions about the suitability of each applicant, so your opening needs to give them an instant snapshot of who you are and why you could be suitable for the role.
Always mention flexibility and show that you’re willing to learn
If you’re making a career change, you might not have any specific experience in that field yet. But that’s perfectly okay! The most important thing to let employers know is that – regardless of any skills or experience – you can work flexibly and that you’re willing to learn.
Employers don’t always look for the candidates with the most experience; they often look for candidates with the most positive can-do attitudes who can demonstrate transferable skills such as teamwork and great attention to detail.
Your cover letter is just as much about demonstrating your proactivity and promoting your strength of character, as it is about promoting your skills and experience.
Be keen but not too keen
It’s important to show prospective employers that you want to work for them. However, be careful not to stray into the territory of sounding too desperate or begging for the job.
Employers want to know that you’re passionate about the job and that you share the company values. They don’t want to know that you’re applying because there is nothing else available or because you can’t find another job. They want to believe that you can get any job you want, but that you want this specific job, working with them.
However, it’s always important to be authentic, so avoid telling companies how ‘amazing’ you think they are or that you’re their ‘biggest fan’. Instead, pick out a few things that attracted you personally to the role and a few things the company does that you find interesting.
Explain CV gaps
Your cover letter is your opportunity to elaborate on anything that may not be very clear from looking at your CV.
For instance, if you took a year out due to injury or illness, or you were a full-time carer for a family member, then it’s better to tell your employer this in your cover letter than let them wonder why you weren’t at work.
If you have a gap in your CV, try to think about anything you did during this time and how this added to your skillset or your life experience. For example, if you were caring for a family member and you’re now applying for a customer-facing role, you could say that during this time you developed greater empathy, which you will use when helping customers.
If you want to find out more about what to do if you have gaps in your CV, have a read of our article; Common CV gaps and how to explain them.
Skip the negatives
One of the most important things you can do in your cover letter is be positive.Positive people radiate energy and others want to be around them. They also want to work with them. This means that if you had a bad experience in a job or were dismissed for any reason, it’s best not to mention this in your cover letter.
Instead, focus on telling future employers why you’re the right person for the job and avoid writing anything that could convince them otherwise or leave them with questions.
If you’re over 50 and trying to pick only the most relevant information from your extensive job history, then don’t waste a single bit of space on anything that could put employers off – even if you’ve got an explanation for why it happened.
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Negotiate salary later
After several decades at work, it’s understandable that by now, you will have certain salary expectations. But there’s no need to put it down on paper straight away. Our advice is always to leave this out, unless you’ve been specifically asked to specify salary expectations. In this case, write down that you’re ‘flexible’ with the view of negotiating your salary later.
Setting your price too high before an employer has even had the chance to meet you, might instantly put them off and encourage them to move straight to the next candidate that’s specified a lower salary.
If a company meets you, likes you, and decides it’s you they want for the job, it’s possible they might be more open to settling on a suitable figure. And if not, then you’ve still gained some valuable interview experience!
Check your presentation
The presentation of your cover letter (and of your CV for that matter) will speak volumes to future employers. Companies receive hundreds of CV’s and cover letters, so you’ll want to keep yours clear and concise. If it’s any longer than a page, it’s likely the reader will get bored and move onto the next letter.
Your letter should grab the attention of whoever picks it up, but only because of what you’ve chosen to write, not how you’ve chosen to display it. It’s best to stick to a classic black font and avoid using images or bold colours that will subtract from the written content of your letter.
It’s also worth proofreading your cover letter at least twice to check for any typos. Prospective employers will want to see that you have excellent attention to detail and take care and pride in your work. The quality of your cover letter should aim to reassure them of this.
End on a positive note
Always end your cover letter on an upbeat, positive note that looks forward to the future. For example: “I would appreciate the opportunity to meet with you and discuss how my skills and experience could contribute towards the success of the company.”
Avoid saying that you ‘hope’ they will contact you, as this implies that you’ve considered that there’s a chance they may not be in touch. Be direct and show you believe in yourself and your abilities, and you’ll be more likely to succeed.
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We hope that these tips have been helpful in your cover writing process and that, by following them, you have let your skills and experience shine!
For more help crafting your cover letter, we have a range of templates you can download here. We also have a CV template, which can help you organise your skills and experience in the best way possible. Or, if you want to go a step further, you might want to learn more about our CV review and rewriting services.
If you’re looking for tips on anything from researching companies to acing interviews, then why not have a look at the wider careers section of our site? Or, if you’re ready to apply for jobs, you can search roles here.