How to Write a Cover Letter? (Examples & Cover Letter Tips)
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A cover letter is a crucial part of the recruitment process. Covering letters are your first opportunity to talk about yourself in your own words and tell employers why they should hire you.
But it won’t always be easy to get noticed. On average, employers spend around 30 seconds looking at a cover letter. So, you need to do two things: first, make those seconds count and, second, encourage them to read for longer.
This article will show you how to write a cover letter that does those things. But, broadly speaking, your cover letter should be:
- Bespoke to the role and company you’re applying for
- Complementing your CV, not repeating it
Essentially, a cover letter is your chance to persuade a recruiter that you should be hired for the role. It should show your interest in the company and how your skills and experience will benefit them; that’s why it needs to be specific to the role.
The first step in any job application cover letter is research. Regardless of whether you're applying for a job in the medical industry such as pharmacy work or nursing, an engineering position, a role within the legal sector or you're interested in a teaching post, it's important to understand the role and company, as well as the sector as a whole.
Even if you are sending a speculative cover letter instead of applying to a specific advertised role, researching the company you are applying to is crucial.
The best cover letters are engaging and written with enthusiasm and energy. They market you, the candidate, as the person who will best fit not only the role but also the company itself and the team you’ll be working with.
To give yourself the best chance, it’s important that you take the time to understand the role, the business and the sector. This applies whether you've been in the sector a long time, are looking to relocate or are considering a career change.
If you take the time to do this research, the employer will immediately see you as someone who is engaged, interested and willing to find things out for themselves. You also show yourself to be someone who does their research and looks ahead, rather than someone who runs in head-first.
Your initial research to write a cover letter should include:
Understanding the company. What does it do? How did it get to this point? How does it make its money? What are the main things going on right now? Who are its competitors?
Understanding the sector. Who are the major players? What does the future hold for the sector? What are the opportunities and challenges of that future?
Understanding the role. The job description is the best place to start and should be studied carefully, but it’s not everything. Look at similar roles within the industry. Look at the makeup of the company. What might this specific role at this specific company look like?
Understanding the people in the company. You’ll need to work alongside them every day, and vice versa. It’s crucial that you get a feel for the organization. How do they present themselves? Formal and structured, or more casual? What feeling does their use of language evoke?
This research will allow you to figure out if this is a place where you want to work and show the employer that you’d fit within their team.
Don't skimp on research when it comes to writing your cover letter.
Your cover letter should look business-like and professional. It needs to be clean, tidy, readable and consistent. With that in mind, here are some basic tips about the cover letter format you should follow:
Use a simple, readable font such as Arial, Calibri or Times New Roman. This isn’t the place to experiment with wacky fonts, even if you’re applying for a creative role.
Use font size 11 or 12. Smaller becomes harder to read, bigger is unnecessary and looks a little childish.
Use a business letter format. That means putting your name, address, telephone number, email address and the date in the top-right corner of the page. Begin with 'Dear Mr/Ms/Mrs/Dr [Name]' and end with 'Yours sincerely,' if you used their name, or 'Yours faithfully,' if you couldn’t find their name and used 'Sir/Madam' or similar.
Be consistent with your text alignment. Left-aligned is generally the easiest to read.
Try and keep your letter to one page. To help with this, you can make the margins narrower, though try to keep a balance as if the text is too wide it becomes more difficult to read. You can also play around with line spacing; don’t go below 0.9 or above 1.5, however.
If you are attaching your CV and cover letter to an email, make sure that your email also makes a good first impression. Use the subject line to list the vacancy title and/or reference number. Make sure your attached files are clearly labeled with your name, for example, Joe_Bloggs_Cover_Letter. Double-check the email for spelling errors and make sure you use the correct name at the top.
These cover letter format's tips are a useful reference for constructing your own cover letter in an appropriate format. Remember, however, that a cover letter should always be tailored to the specific role and company you are applying for.
Generic cover letters won’t cut it. Employers read many applications and it becomes very easy to tell when someone has just copied and pasted a template and changed the details slightly.
Don't copy and paste content from one cover letter to another thinking it will save you time. Sometimes mistakes and oversight can occur; you may forget to change details such as the company or position you are applying to or your circumstances may have changed since the last time you wrote a cover letter.
To let the company know that you’re serious about the role, you should tailor your cover letter to the application. For instance, a position for an accounting cover letter role will require different skills and experience to an architect role, bartender position or opening within the dentistry sector and a cover letter should reflect this relevant experience accordingly.
There are three things you need to know so you can tailor your cover letter for the best chance of success:
70% of jobs are filled by an Applicant Tracking System (or ATS). An ATS is an automated software that reads applications and uses algorithms to make decisions about them.
Have you ever wondered why you sometimes have to fill out a long form that simply repeats a lot of the information on your CV? It’s because the information is being put directly into an ATS.
Some more advanced ATS’s can also read cover letters. This is typically done by scanning for keywords relating to the job description.
For that reason – and because it’s good practice in general – you should refer directly to the attributes, values and responsibilities that the employer uses in the job listing. By using those keywords, not only do you make sure that an ATS will notice, but you will also show that you’re focused on exactly what the employer wants.
For instance, if the job requires data analysis, mention the term 'data analysis' in your cover letter. A social worker role may state it requires someone with empathy who has good administration and organization skills, in which case ensure you include these key terms when you are writing your cover letter.
While ATS’s are often used, your cover letter will get read by someone at some point, if it goes far enough. Some people will read them quickly and rely more on the interview, while others will read them thoroughly.
In any situation, it’s worthwhile to tailor your cover letter to the specific role you’re applying for.
Again, make sure you refer directly to the job description. Discuss why and how you can fulfill those specific requirements, as well as what you can bring more generally.
Employers aren’t only looking for someone to do a job. They’re also looking for someone to fit in well in their organization. You’ll need to work with others in the company and, some time down the line, you might change roles or be up for a promotion.
So do your research on the company’s values, culture and goals and talk about how you would fit into those.
Format, appearance and structure are key for a good cover letter.
It is understandable that graduates will have less work experience than those who have been in the working world for several years. However, a graduate cover letter should still follow the format and advice outlined above, but with a different focus.
As a graduate, your cover letter should focus on your academic background. Include the full name of your course and where you studied.
The key is to highlight any major achievements that make you stand out, along with any relevant periods of work experience or voluntary placements you may have undertaken. It is also good to highlight valuable and relevant skills you can bring to the role.
Even if you do not have paid work experience, you may be able to draw on voluntary work or extracurricular activities to demonstrate your skills and achievements.
Graduates may also wish to apply to study for a PhD. Whether you've recently graduated and would like to continue your academic studies further or you've been working for several years and are keen to increase your expertise and skills through obtaining a PhD, a suitable PhD cover letter is an important part of the application process that can help you stand out from other candidates.
How to Write a Good Cover Letter: 10 Key Tips
'I’m a great team player and am passionate about my work.'
What’s wrong with this sentence?
First, it doesn’t actually say anything that any other candidate couldn’t say. Second, the recruiter has probably read that same sentence many times today. Third, there’s no evidence provided to back up the claims.
Back up your claims with examples, be specific about your skills, and avoid clichés that an employer has heard many times before.
Everyone hits the wrong key once in a while, and we all have those words that we never seem to spell correctly.
However, poor grammar and spelling will reflect badly on you. It can show an employer that maybe you don’t quite have the attention to detail they’re after.
Use a spell checker before you send in the cover letter, so you know there won’t be any mistakes.
Read your cover letter out loud several times after you’re finished writing it, to make sure the words flow naturally. Sometimes you won’t notice minor errors until you hear how it sounds yourself. If possible, get a friend or family member to read over it for you, to get a fresh perspective.
The cover letter isn’t the place to show how friendly, funny or creative you are. It’s the place to show you’re a serious, competent and professional person, capable of doing the job at hand.
While that doesn’t mean you have to be stiff and overly formal, it does mean you should keep the tone, style and formatting professional.
Anyone can say they’re a great communicator. Make sure you provide evidence in the form of concrete examples.
For every point you make about yourself or your skills, be sure to follow it with a tangible example.
Don't use generic qualitative words to describe your successes. Instead of saying that you signed up 'a lot' of new customers, say that you managed to improve the monthly customer acquisition rate by 34%.
Instead of saying that you 'added to' the company’s profit margin, show that you increased the profit margin by 8% in 12 months.
There will be plenty of candidates who show real enthusiasm for that specific job at that specific company. So why would they hire someone who has clearly taken a scattergun approach? Are they sure that this person even wants the job?
Show the employer that you’re excited about the opportunity they’re offering and show them that you can fulfill their specific needs. You’ll stand a much better chance if you take the time to tailor your cover letter to the specific role and employer.
As Mark Twain famously wrote: ‘I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long letter instead.’ Keeping a cover letter short, concise and to the point doesn’t mean you have less to offer.
In fact, employers tend to prefer shorter cover letters, so never use more words than needed.
The employer has already seen your CV. They probably have it out in front of them as they read your cover letter. They won’t take kindly to simply reading the same information twice.
Your CV is more of an overview of important information about you and your career and education history. The cover letter is there to elaborate, explain and persuade the employer that you’re the best candidate.
If you’re too passive in your writing, you might come across as someone who lacks confidence and initiative.
Be confident in your abilities and demonstrate that you’re able to be proactive and can take charge of your own work.
By doing this, you kill two birds with one stone. First, you make sure the company’s ATS notices the right things about your cover letter. Second, you demonstrate to the employer that you have read and understood the job description, and that you fulfill the requirements.
This is your chance to sell yourself and persuade the employer why they need you in their company. Being too humble and playing down your skills and experience won’t help you do that.
Of course, you do need to balance that approach with the risk of sounding arrogant. The key here is to back up your skills with concrete examples, but also to emphasise your willingness to improve, listen to feedback and learn new skills.
Crafting a compelling cover letter is essential in the job application process. It serves as your introduction to potential employers and a chance to showcase your personality and enthusiasm for the position. Here are brief examples to guide you in creating an impactful cover letter:
Dear Hiring Manager,
In my previous role, I exceeded quarterly sales targets by 30% through strategic client engagement and innovative product presentations. I am excited to bring this proven track record of driving revenue to your dynamic sales team at [Company Name].
Dear [Hiring Manager's Name],
As a seasoned project manager, I successfully led a cross-functional team in implementing a streamlined workflow, resulting in a 20% reduction in project completion time. I am eager to apply my project management expertise to drive efficiency and success at [Company Name].
Dear Hiring Team,
Having recently completed my [Degree] with a focus on [Relevant Skill], I am enthusiastic about the opportunity to contribute to [Company Name]. My academic achievements and passion for [Industry] make me an ideal candidate for this entry-level role.
Dear [Creative Director's Name],
With a portfolio showcasing my innovative design projects, I am thrilled to apply for the [Position] at [Company Name]. My ability to blend creativity with strategic thinking makes me a valuable asset to your creative team.
Remember, a cover letter is your chance to complement your resume and make a memorable impression. In addition, tailor each letter to the specific job and company, addressing essential requirements and expressing genuine interest.
Keep it concise, focused, and infused with your unique personality to stand out in the competitive job market.
Format your cover letter in a professional and clean structure. Begin with your contact information, followed by the date and the recipient's details. Use a formal salutation, an engaging opening paragraph, well-organized body paragraphs highlighting your qualifications, and a strong closing. Sign off with a professional closing phrase.
A cover letter should be concise and focused. Aim for three to four paragraphs, keeping it within one page. Capture the reader's attention with a brief introduction, highlight your essential qualifications, and express enthusiasm for the position.
Include your contact information, the date, and the recipient's details. Begin with a compelling introduction, express your interest in the position, highlight relevant skills and experiences, and explain how you can contribute to the company. Conclude with a strong closing and a call to action.
Address the cover letter to the hiring manager or relevant department head whenever possible. If the job posting includes a contact name, use it. Doing so adds a personal touch and shows that you've taken the time to research the company.
Opt for a generic but professional salutation when you don't have a specific name. "Dear Hiring Manager" or "To Whom It May Concern" are suitable choices. If you're applying to a smaller company, consider researching online or calling the company to find the appropriate contact person.
Don’t let this be the beginning and end of your research into writing a great cover letter. Other perspectives are always worthwhile. Reading widely will allow you to develop your own distinct style that will help you stand out from the crowd.
Here are a few other resources that are well worth looking into:
- Cover Letter Examples And Common Mistakes
- How to Start a Cover Letter
- How to End a Cover Letter
- How to Write a Cover Letter for an Internship
- How to Write A CV: Tips And Examples
- Application Advice
- How to Write an Employment Verification Letter
- How to Write a Speculative Cover Letter
- How to Write a Career Change Cover Letter