What is a cover letter?
A cover letter is a brief (one page or less) document that you write to a hiring manager or recruiter to go along with your CV and any other application materials.
A cover letter is a chance to introduce yourself and showcase your personality and understanding of the role and the firm you are applying to.
It’s where you can describe in more detail:
- who you are
- what you’re like
- what you can bring to the role
- Your understanding of the firm
It’s a chance to sell yourself as the person who’s right for the job.
How to layout your cover letter
You should write a fresh cover letter for each job (but yes, you can use the same template each time you just need to cater it specifically for each company you apply to).
- Introduction: Include a line or heading at the top of your letter, which states the role you want to apply for and any reference number from the job description. This makes it easier for the reader – the company might be recruiting for more than one job at the same time.
You should mention where you heard about the role and any other documents you’ve attached (for example your CV or application).
If you’re keen to work for a company who are not advertising a certain role, you can still send a speculative cover letter and CV. Use the cover letter to describe what position you’re interested in.
- Why you’re interested: Outline why you’re interested in the role and the organisation – research the employer and explain how the role fits into your career plans.
- What you have to offer: Highlight the skills and experience you have that relate to this role using the requirements outlined in the job description. You could use a statement along the lines of ‘There are 3 key reasons to consider my application’, and then list those reasons with a short explanation of each.
- Address the gaps: If you have gaps in your CV or you’re making a career change, you might want to use an extra paragraph here to explain.
- Your conclusion: End positively. Say that you look forward to hearing from them and hope to discuss the role further. It’s also worth mentioning any dates you will not be available for an interview.
If you do manage to address your letter to a particular person, you should sign it off with ‘yours sincerely’. If you’ve had to insert ‘sir/madam’ instead, you should end with ‘yours faithfully’.
- Contact details: If you send your cover letter in an email, remember to put in a signature at the bottom. This should include: your name, address, phone number and email. You could also add links such as your LinkedIn profile or your Twitter handle if you use this professionally.
If you’re writing a letter to post or attach as a document, treat it as a traditional letter and put your name and address in the top right-hand corner. Add the company’s name and address below this on the left-hand side of the page.
Bonus cover letter tips to give you an edge over the competition
As you write your cover letter, here are a few more tips to consider to help you stand out from the stack of applicants:
- Keep it short and sweet: for resumes and cover letters try to not go over a page.
- Never apologise for your missing experience: When you don’t meet all of the job requirements, it’s tempting to use lines like, “Despite my limited experience as a…” or “While I may not have direct experience in…” But why apologise? Instead of drawing attention to your weaknesses, emphasise the strengths and transferable skills you do have.
- Strike the right tone: You want to find a balance between being excessively formal in your writing—which can make you come off as stiff or insincere—and being too conversational. Let your personality shine through but also keep in mind that a cover letter shouldn’t sound like a text to an old friend.
- Consider writing in the company’s “voice”: Cover letters are a great way to show that you understand the environment and culture of the company and industry. Spending some time reading over the company website or stalking their social media before you get started can be a great way to get in the right mindset—you’ll get a sense for the company’s tone, language, and culture, which are all things you’ll want to mirror—especially if writing skills are a core part of the job.
- Go easy on the enthusiasm: Yes, you want to show personality, creativity, and excitement but downplay the adverbs a bit, and keep the level of enthusiasm for the opportunity genuine and believable.