How to Write a Cover Letter

A well-written cover letter can make a difference between your CV being read and it being thrown into the bin.

When applying for jobs, some applicants tend to throw their CVs in the general direction of a recruiter, and hope for the best. They haven’t included a cover letter with the application, and that could be costing them opportunities.

What’s a cover letter and why’s it so important?

A well-written cover letter can be the difference between getting an interview and being filtered out at the start. It’s your opportunity to take all the skills and accomplishments you’d find in a good CV, summarise it, and send a direct message to the recruiter about why you deserve the job ahead of the candidates that make up the rest of the pack. In essence, it’s a focused sales pitch.

Do the research

Before sitting down to write a cover letter, do some research on the company and the role you’re applying for. This is good preparation for a possible interview, but it’s also valuable for you to understand whether this role is a good fit.

Doing this research will help you personalise your cover letter and allow you to write something unique and powerful. It’ll allow you avoid something too generic and templated, again with the aim of creating a letter which hits home, using the style and terminology that will be suitable for the recruiter you’re applying for. You also need to write content which can grab the attention of a recruiter in a few seconds.

Researching the company will also help you with writing a cover letter. For instance, if you’re applying for a job opening, the cover letter you write will be tailored for the role you’re going for. If you’re prospecting a company with inquiries about possible positions, the nature of what you write will obviously be different.

How to write a cover letter

Image: Adpbe Stock

How to start a cover letter?

If you want to personalise your cover letter, it will help to address it to the right person. Sometimes that’s easy, as some job advertisements will have a contact name on the advert. Other times that won’t be the case. If it’s the latter, it won’t hurt addressing the cover letter to the manager of the specific department you’re applying for. You might get extra brownie points for tracking down the name of relevant person in the company.

What to include in a cover letter

  • The first paragraph – Make an impact

This is extremely key, as in a cover letter you need to make an impact and give the recruiter a reason to read on. If you’re applying to an advertised listing, it would be good to mention the job advert. If you’re fortunate to have a referral for this job from a contact, make sure you include it, as that could make a big difference.

Here are some examples of good opening paragraphs.

I was pleased to hear from Jeremy Green that you will soon have a vacancy for a Marketing Assistant. I am very interested in this position, and with my skills I could be an asset to your company.

Having recently read in The Times of your company’s plans for expansion, I am writing to establish whether this will involve an increase in personnel. As a final year business student at Durham University, I am seeking a position in January that will develop my marketing and finance skills.

I am writing to apply for the Photographic Assistant position advertised in the November 1 listing of Car Magazine.

  • The second paragraph – Why should they choose you?

This is where you should write a strong statement about why the employer should choose you, describing the most relevant skills and experiences related to the job you’re applying for. Your research will help determine what you include, as you match the skills you put down in the job description. If you’re prospecting rather than going for an individual job, think about the skills you believe will be most important to the company.

Here are examples of good second paragraphs

I could be a great fit for your business. I recently finished a Marketing degree at the University of London, which means I have a great grounding in the skills needed for this role, as well as relevant work experience at numerous companies.

Through my degree, I have built up a good knowledge of skills needed to thrive in a company such as yours -  for example, business law, digital business, corporate finance and employment law. I’ve also had work experience at high-profile financial institutions.

I recently finished a Photography degree at South Bank University, where I developed business skills and increased my technical knowledge. I have also had work experience at numerous photography publications.

  •  The third paragraph – How can it work for both of you?

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 and to incorporate your research. You can also expand on the most relevant parts of your CV.

I’ve spoken to Jeremy, and I understand that you’re looking for a graduate with high technical skill and strong potential to grow as a digital marketer. I fit that profile, and have the confidence to grow and contribute to your business.

Your company has recently called for graduates to apply who have similar skillsets to mine, but with the hunger to achieve their short and long-term goals at a fast-growing company. I can make a positive impact at your business, and be part of the great culture you’ve developed.

At South Bank, I developed all the technical and business skills required for the position. Your company offers the potential for me to develop a long-term career in automotive photography, and I’m confident that I can contribute to the continued success of your publication.

How to write a cover letter

Image: Adobe Stock

What not to include in your cover letter

Be careful to keep the cover letter concise and snappy. The purpose isn’t to tell your life story or repeat what you’re going to say at interview. Keep your letter focused and just a few paragraphs in length – it’s there to convey enough information to get that job interview. Also, if you go into too much detail, there’s a risk of the recruiter getting bored or worst still, not even bothering to start reading.

Watch the language! Avoid cliché and catchphrases, and make sure the you don’t use the word ‘I’ too much – you need to write for the reader, and they’ll want to know that you’ve thought about them in depth. Don’t use abbreviations, unless you clearly explain what they mean. And incorporate industry terms relevant to the company you’re applying for, but only if you genuinely understand what they mean.

How to end a cover letter

Concluding the letter, you might decide to make a final statement that you’re available to meet with the employer at their convenience, or better still, say you’ll follow up on a specific day. If the job description specifically asks you to include salary details, put those in, but if not leave them out – that should be up for discussion at a later stage, such as the interview. You should put contact details in, and consider adding links to work social profiles or personal websites you’re happy to share.

Thank you for considering my application. I will contact you next week to follow up on my application and arrange for an interview – in the meantime, call me on my phone number at xxxxxxxxxxx or email me at xxxx@xxxx. You can also see examples of my work at xxxx.com.

If asked….

In terms of salary, I’m looking at a figure between £xxxxx and £xxxxx.

Edit and proofread your cover letter

From a recruiter’s viewpoint, typos and mistakes in a cover letter can be a sign that the candidate doesn’t take due care with what they create – so don’t do it! Make sure you edit and proofread your cover letter thoroughly. If necessary, get someone else to do it. The editor of your cover letter can imagine themselves as a recruiter, providing insight you won’t necessarily get reading it by yourself.

Important points to note

  1. Avoid sounding pompous or using clichés and catch phrases, there are some statements that are used all the time such as ‘I have excellent interpersonal skills’, you want your letter to be unique.
  2. Try to avoid using ‘I’ too much. A page of I did this and I did that is not appealing – it says to the employer that you haven’t thought about them.
  3. Do not use abbreviations.
  4. Do not exceed four paragraphs of content.
  5. To satisfy the skim reader, incorporate some industry sound bites and buzzwords.
  6. Subtly flatter the company, for example ‘you are the industry leader’
  7. Check and then recheck your spelling, grammar and punctuation. Get someone else to read it through also.
  8. If you are making a speculative application you should follow up the letter with a phone call, e-mail or office visit.
  9. Paper clip your covering letter to your CV, one should never be sent out without the other.

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  • Joanne

    The opening lines are good except for the, ‘I am writing….’. As an employment coach, I recommend to all my customers to not start a letter with ‘I am’ as 90% of cover/ spec letters start with that. ‘I am writing…’ is even worse because it’s obvious you are writing as they would not have letter! As the article says, the letter should have impact so here is another opening line suggestion, ‘As a highly customer focused, energetic and experienced Retail Assistant, I would like to be considered for the vacancy advertised in the Global News’…or something along those lines anyway…anything but ‘I am’ :-)

  • http://www.facebook.com/anthony.neal.790 Anthony Neal

    In an age of electronic communication, the reference to physical covering letters would appear to be somewhat anachronistic.

  • Castor

    If an employer has a tray full of applications, why would any of them want an extra piece of paper to read?! Cover letters are so old fashion with no way to know if the applicant it lying about themselves or not without having read their CV too. In my opinion the whole ‘cover letter’ should be scrapped. Are job seekers really expected to write a custom cover letter for each company they apply to?..You could apply to 100 companies in a week, you can’t be expected to write 100 different cover letters each addressing the individual employer. I rather just write one generic cover letter, if I have to have one, then spend the rest of my time searching for more jobs.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Chris-Thompson/576715241 Chris Thompson

      Well that just shows no commitment to any of the job’s individually, Thus suggests no actual desire to get their job. Why give a job to someone who isn’t that bothered about getting that job, when they could choose an applicant who really desires that job?

      • Harry Chown

        If one applies to one job then the chances are that that person won’t get that job. I am applying for ACA training contracts. I guarantee that no matter how custom made I make my cover letter, I won’t get a position if I send it to only one company. I have got a list of 86 employers that have vacancies. 86 might give me a 5% chance when compared with just 1 application. However I can’t spend 2 hours on each cover letter for 86 employers – it’s simply not possible. But trust me, I WANT their jobs and I have commitment.

  • Michael Gadd

    This is helpful but what advice do you have when writing ‘through’ a recruitment consultant or online job website that uses covering letter templates? Therefore knowing very little about the company?