Tips for writing a cover letter when you’re over 50

If written in the right way, a cover letter can be a powerful statement that makes prospective employers stand up and take notice. If you’re in your 50s or 60s, you’ll have a wealth of transferable skills and experience that will be of great value in many job roles, but you need to present these in a way that will 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 interview, so always make the most of the extra opportunity to have your voice heard.

To help you get you on the pathway to success, we’ve come up with a list of helpful 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 are applying for a slightly different role to one you have 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 note.

We know it can be hard to force yourself to write a cover note 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 interview, meaning you end up having to send off more and more applications.

Simply by going to the effort of writing one, you’re already making a great first impression to your potential employer and demonstrating how proactive you are.

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 will be able to gather a treasure chest of information to help you. For example a quick look at Sainsbury’s and you can find their values, their vision, what they are looking for, and even some tips from them on how to increase your chances of success. All of this is in addition to the information provided on a basic job spec about the role you are applying for.

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.

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 only 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 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, but 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.

As always, it’s important to be authentic however, 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 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.

Try to think about anything what 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.

Skip the negatives 

One of the most important things you can do is be positive. Its infectious, even in a letter! 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, don’t mention this in your cover letter.

Focus on telling future employers why you’re the right person for the job and don’t write down anything that could convince them otherwise or leave them asking 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.

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 have been specifically asked to specify salary expectations. In this case, write down that you’re ‘flexible’ with the view of negotiating your salary later. If you set your price too high before an employer has even had the chance to meet you, they may be instantly put off and 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, they may be much 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 – always 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 e.g. ‘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.

By following these helpful tips we hope you can write a cover letter than really lets your skills and experience shine. If you’ve got any tips of your own, please send them to  [email protected]. We’d love to hear from you.

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