Top Seven Tips for Writing a Winning Cover Letter
A cover letter is your chance to tell a prospective employer who you are and why you’re just right for a role with them – here’s how to make a great first impression.
1. Use an appropriate format
You may not be applying for an administrative or secretarial role, but even so, presentation matters. Broadly, your cover letter should include your address, the date, the address of the company you’re applying to join, relevant information about your work experience, and an indication of why you are interested in the role. You should then sign off appropriately (see below).
You should always mention in your opening paragraph which specific role you are applying for and where you saw it advertised. Include a reference number if you have one. Some larger employers and recruitment firms will be advertising for dozens of different vacancies at the same time, and you want to be sure that your carefully worded CV and cover letter make it to the right person.
2. Keep it short
Unless you’re applying for a very specialist or senior role in academia, medicine or management, your cover letter should be one A4 page or less – ideally not more than three quarters of the page, including addresses and formatting (see below). In the current competitive job market, no recruiter or prospective employer will wade through pages and pages of irrelevant content – keep it short, succinct and relevant.
Ultimately, your cover letter should make the reader want to turn keenly to your CV to learn more about you – a kind of elevator pitch for you as a candidate.
3. Highlight key achievements
How best to sell yourself as a candidate in under a page? Focus on three to four achievements, skills or attributes that are relevant to the role you’re applying for, and include these in a clear way. It’s fine to be direct about your professional successes – no need for modesty here. Writing “I would like to draw your attention to the following achievements,” followed by a short bullet-pointed list, is a simple, effective approach.
A candidate applying for a sales position might include information on the revenue they’ve generated in their last role, while an applicant for a childcare role may include details of advanced qualifications or positive OFSTED feedback.
In each case, the information included is detailed, relevant and clearly indicates that the candidate is right for the job – exactly what a prospective employer is looking to see.
4. Demonstrate your enthusiasm for the role
When you’re making application after application, it can be tempting to use the same cover letter for every job. Why shouldn’t you? Well, when an employer receives a high volume of applications for a position, they will naturally look to candidates who show that they view the role as an opportunity they are excited about.
There’s no need to be deceptive or pretend the role is more desirable or prestigious than it is, but do mention why you’ve taken the time to put in an application. Perhaps the company is well-known, and you like the idea of working for a household name. Maybe they work in an industry you’re particularly keen to join, or in which you have substantial experience. You may be interested in the kinds of projects they do, or the clients they support – all excellent reasons to be making an application to join them and build on your experience.
If the company has been featured on lists of best companies to work for, do mention that the company culture appeals to you – it demonstrates your research into the role and is a sound reason to want to join.
It should go without saying, but total honesty is not always the best approach when explaining why you’re keen on the role – a high salary, short commute or subsidised canteen may be a draw, but no hiring manager will be impressed if you mention these as reasons for your application.
5. Address and sign your letter correctly
It may seem old-fashioned, but if you’re going to the trouble of tailoring your cover letter to the role, you don’t want to slip up with a careless error.
If the advertisement names a particular person (“Please send your CV and cover letter to Jane Jones”) then be sure to do so – it’s a great way to demonstrate your attention to detail. If the only information you have is the person’s job title (“Please send your application to the HR Manager”), you will look proactive and personable if you use the company website or LinkedIn to find out that person’s name and direct your covering letter to them.
Keep in mind that the British convention is to sign a letter to a specific addressee (“Ms Jones”) with “Yours sincerely,” but a letter to an unnamed recipient (“Dear Sir/Madam”) with “Yours faithfully.” Avoid more casual sign-offs like “Kind regards” or “Thanks” – you are applying for a job, after all!
6. Don’t assume a cover letter is not needed
Just because a job advertisement doesn’t explicitly ask for a cover letter, don’t neglect to include one at all. Think of a cover letter as an extra opportunity to let the recruiter know who you are and what makes you a stand-out candidate for the advertised role. If you don’t include a cover letter, or just dash off a one-line “Please see attached,” you’re missing out on a great opportunity to highlight your experience and achievements.
7. Omit irrelevant detail
The cover letter is not the place to include details of your university grades, extra-curricular activities and hobbies, caring responsibilities or the reason you are leaving your current role. Likewise, unless explicitly requested, leave out details of salary expectations or working hours – all that can be discussed once your carefully crafted cover letter and CV have seen you through to a successful interview.
Keep it short, appropriate and relevant, and you’ll be starting that new job in no time.