2. Direct the attention with your cover letter

Let your cover letter guide the reader

Although cover letters have lost some of their importance over the last twenty years, they are usually still expected and an excellent means of bridging the gap between your CV / résumé and the specific positions you are applying for. In most cases, it would be too time-consuming to adapt your CV / résumé perfectly to each position advertised and the company behind it. This won’t be a problem if a) your CV / résumé is well composed in general, and b) you provide the reader with a little guidance in the form of your cover letter on how to read and understand your CV / résumé.

To reach this goal, filling your cover letter with empty phrases that do not refer to the position you are applying for or for which you have no justification in your CV / résumé is not good enough. Surprisingly, this often happens to those people who are afraid that their CV / résumé may end up sounding too boastful. They more or less completely omit previous achievements in their CVs / résumés and limit them to boring lists of previous tasks and activities. But then they don’t fail to provide an accompanying letter with unsubstantiated assertions like in this example:

»I have read your vacancy ad for a secretary with great interest and would like to apply for this position. I am communicative, motivated, and have a talent for organization.

In my previous employment relationships, I have always reliably fulfilled my tasks. Teamwork is of high priority for me. But I also enjoy working by myself. The results of my work have therefore always been appreciated by my superiors and colleagues.«

It still amazes me when people get invited for an interview in spite of such writing. I can only explain it to myself by the fact that many companies are accustomed to this kind of mischief and otherwise rely mainly on the evaluation of the respective CV / résumé.

A much better way would be something like the following example:

»Being a regular reader of the trade magazine “Back Office Trends”, your job advertisement in the 03/2024 issue for the position of chief secretary in the materials procurement department particularly appealed to me.

Due to my current position as assistant to the management of NanoPress Ltd., I have been familiar with the typical requirements of secretarial work for higher management levels and material purchasing for more than 3 years now.

I hold my current employer in high regard, but since it is a medium-sized company, there are hardly any further development opportunities for me. The position you have advertised would be an ideal next step for me. It would enable me to continue using my network of supplier contacts developed over 7 years to successfully support my supervisor and at the same time gain more international work experience.«

Key elements

Ideally, your cover letter tells a short story through which the recipient learns the following about you:

  • That you are already (somewhat) familiar with the hiring company.
  • That you understand the open position, its tasks, and especially how to be successful in it.
  • Why your career to date provides an excellent basis for this (proof of your competence).
  • How you will personally benefit from the new job (proof of your motivation).
  • How you will make a significant contribution to the success of the company already in the near future.

Depending on the specific circumstances, the first two aspects may not always be quite as important. This is usually relevant in cases of less industry-related work (e.g. that of a receptionist). However, if they do play a role and you do not have sufficient information about them yet, you should research these two aspects at this point and not wait to be told about them by the hiring manager during the interview.

The last three aspects, on the other hand, are always important and should therefore always be included in a cover letter. It is exactly these three, that have the function to make the readers curious to learn more about you (by reading your CV / résumé) and to draw their attention to the relevant highlights.

If you still have enough room, you can end by asking a question that gives the recipient the prospect of an interesting interview with you. However, such a question must be truly intriguing, otherwise you run the risk of expressing a lack of competence. A convincing version could look like this:

»I would be very glad to speak with you in a job interview soon. This would also give me the opportunity to hear your opinion on the use of document management systems (DMS) for more cost-effective document processing. I have noticed that they seem to be gaining ground in our industry.«

How to present your soft skills

Having the right soft skills is often relevant to the degree of success even in rather technical positions, which is why a convincing presentation of them can play a decisive role in the positive outcome of your job application.

Unfortunately, many applicants present their soft skills in the same way they mention their technical skills in their application documents. That quickly sounds awkward and is not convincing at all. I have dedicated a separate page to this topic where I explain the reason for it and how you can do better easily.


All relevant information for reaching the goals mentioned above should be summarized as briefly and concisely as possible in your cover letter and should therefore be limited to one page. Even the best cover letter cannot replace the need for a good CV / résumé and the longer it is, the less the individual arguments in it stand out. Your cover letter does not have to answer all possible questions but should just make the recipient curious to have a personal conversation with you.


So, to summarize:

With my cover letter, I am establishing the link between my CV / résumé and a particular vacancy. This will help me explain to the hiring manager why I have the best qualifications and how I can contribute to the success of his or her business very soon.

On April 7th, Ms. Annette S. from Besançon wrote to me:

»Your tips for the motivation letter are great. I’m going to implement them in the next few days.«