Writing Your Cover Letter

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Contents

What is a cover letter?
Do I really need one?
What should I write?
Content and layout
What not to include
What to do next

What is a cover letter?

A cover letter is a document sent with your CV to provide additional information about your skills and experience.

An effective cover letter can be the difference between selection for interview or being filtered out at the start.  It will create a critical first impression and prove that you write well, think clearly and possess the required qualities to succeed in the advertised role.

It’s your opportunity to summarise all the skills and accomplishments from your CV, and send a direct message to the recruiter giving the reasons why you deserve the job ahead of other candidates.  Because your cover letter may make the difference between obtaining a job interview or being ignored, it makes good sense to devote time and effort to its creation.

A cover letter typically accompanies each CV you send out, either by mail or, more usually, by email or online upload.  The letter should provide evidence that you’re a strong match for the employer’s job requirements.  Think of your cover letter as a sales pitch that will market your credentials and help you win the interview.  It will show that you have put extra effort into your application.  Employers use cover letters as a way to screen applicants and to determine which candidates they would like to interview.

While a well-written cover letter may increase your chances of getting an interview, the opposite is also true.  A poorly written cover letter will most probably cause an employer to reject your application.  In this article we will explore the elements of a good cover letter.

Do I really need one?

Yes.  Unless a job posting specifically says not to send a letter of application or cover letter, you should always send one.  Even if the company does not request a letter of application, sending one will demonstrate that you are a motivated candidate.  If they do ask you to send a letter, ensure that you follow their directions exactly.

A cover letter is an excellent way to show that employer why you are a strong candidate for the job.  It is also a useful way to explain away any potential concerns the employer might have about your candidacy, such as gaps in your employment or the fact that you will need to relocate for the job.

If you're applying online and there is no way to upload or post a cover letter, don't worry about it. You don't need one.  Also, don't write a cover letter when the employer specifically states what they want in a job application (CV, references, etc.).

What should I write?

Your cover letter should be short and to the point and is used to complement, rather than duplicate, your CV.  Its purpose is to interpret the CV and add a personal touch to your application.

To create a good first impression, make sure that your cover letter

  • is well written
  • doesn’t contain any spelling mistakes or poor grammar
  • supports the information in your CV

One of the most important parts of getting a cover letter right is doing the right research for the role and organisation you’re applying for.  A good cover letter will show that you’ve done your research; that you know what the job involves and what the employer is looking for.

Research will help personalise your cover letter and allow you to write something unique and powerful.  It will allow you avoid being too generic, using a style and terminology that will be suitable for the recruiter you’re applying for.  It will also allow you to write content that will capture attention in a few seconds.

Having completed the research, your cover letter should be tailored for the vacant post.  Make specific reference to the employer and avoid sending an impersonal identikit letter with no reference to the company.

Keep your letter focused, concise and no more than a few paragraphs in length.  It’s important that you convey just enough information to entice the recruiting manager to contact you for an interview but there is no need to share any personal information.  Equally, don’t mention salary unless the company has asked for your requirements.

Content and layout

Broadly follow the layout of a typical business letter.  Left-justify the whole document and use single spaces, leaving a space between each paragraph.  Use the same tone as on your CV, and also the same font and text size.  You may choose to adopt some of the language that the employer uses on their website and job adverts.

Keep in mind that your best strategy is to write a customised cover letter for each job application.  Recruiting managers can easily tell when they’ve been sent a generic cover letter, and they are much more likely to be interested in a candidate who has taken the time to write a unique communication that specifically addresses the job on offer.

Salutation

It’s important to address your letter to the person named in the advert, if possible.  If you don't have a contact name, avoid writing ‘Dear Sir or Madam’ by searching the company website or LinkedIn for a Human Resources Director, or the manager of the specific department you’re applying for.

Paragraph 1

Many recruiters skim-read cover letters, so the opening paragraph is your opportunity to make an impact and give them a reason to read on.  The first paragraph of your cover letter should specify the post you are applying for, especially the job title.  You should state how you heard about the job, and briefly explain why you think you are an ideal candidate.

If you’re fortunate to have a referral for this job from a contact within the company, this is where you mention their name.  Show how keen you are to win the job and work for this employer.

Paragraph 2

Write a strong statement about why the employer should choose you, describing your most relevant skills and experience related to the job. Your research will help determine what to include, as you match the skills specified in the job description.  Incorporate a few industry sound bites and keywords to satisfy the skim reader but only if you genuinely understand what they mean.

Present your skills in a way that shows how appointing you will benefit their company.  You can do this by cutting down on the number of times you use the word ‘I’ and increasing the number of times you use ‘you’ and the company name.

Be positive about who you are and what you have to offer. Identify your unique selling points and highlight the special skills, knowledge, experience and expertise you can bring.  Provide specific examples in bullet points.

Paragraph 3

Continue your argument, making sure you show what you can do for the prospective employer.  Your research is important here.  If you’ve analysed the job description properly, you should be able to write a section where you can emphasise what you can do for the company, rather than vice versa. It might help to outline a relevant career goal. You can also expand on the most relevant parts of your CV.

Explain why you believe you’re the right person for the company, and what motivates you to work for them.  Show you're familiar with their products and services, and recent news about them.  You could also mention that you're enthusiastic about working for them because you share their work values and ethics.

Paragraph 4

Conclude your cover letter by thanking the employer for considering you for the position.  Invite them to find more details about you from your attached or enclosed CV, and consider adding links to work social profiles or personal websites that you’re happy to share.  Say that you're looking forward to hearing from them.  Sign off with ‘Yours sincerely’ when you have addressed the letter to a specific person.

Email cover letter

An email cover letter includes almost exactly the same content as a hard copy cover letter, with a few optional additions.  Use the job title and your name in the subject line of the email, and add relevant hyperlinks to social profiles or websites in the body of the letter.

As with CVs, make sure your email address is professional.  Along with the subject line, your email address is the first thing the employer will see, so ensure that it includes your first and last name.

What not to include

  • Try to avoid using ‘I’ too much
  • Do not use abbreviations or acronyms
  • Do not exceed four paragraphs of content
  • Avoid cliché and catchphrases

What to do next

  • Try to take the recruiter’s point of view: imagine that you're the employer and ask yourself whether you would employ the person who sent this cover letter
  • Proofread your cover letter, and correct any errors or phrases that don’t look quite right
  • Read it out loud. This will not only help you catch any spelling or grammatical errors but it will also help you notice any sentences that sound awkward or that are hard to understand
  • Send your cover letter to The New Job Fitness Club, and we will suggest ways to polish it even further