Before you begin your search for a graduate role in earnest, you’ll probably spend time writing and perfecting your CV. More often than not, the cover letter is then put together at the last minute, without much thought. Don’t do this!
With so much competition out there, if your cover letter is too brief or doesn’t sell you well, you’re at an immediate disadvantage.
As such, you must spend some time preparing and writing a tailored cover letter. Every vacancy that you apply for will be different, so you need to write a new cover letter each time. Basically, don’t be lazy. The more time and effort you put into writing your cover letter, the higher the chances of securing an interview which could lead to a job offer.
Ten Key Tips To Writing A Great Cover Letter
When you come to put your cover letter together, we’d suggest you refer to these ten areas to make sure it’s as strong as possible:
1. Word Choice
When writing your cover letter, be careful about the words and phrases that you use. In particular, ensure that you incorporate key terms from the job description and person specification in your letter.
There’s a very good reason for this.
Many recruiters now use software to scan applications and supporting documents, which check for the inclusion of particular phrases. These algorithms make the selection process easier by sifting out those candidates who may be unsuitable. Read the job advertisement and supporting documents carefully and highlight any words and phrases emphasised.
Even if your letter is not going to be scanned by software, managers usually don’t have a lot of time to sift through hundreds of application letters in detail. To increase the chances of being selected, word your letter so it includes most of the specified criteria.
However, don’t be tempted to enhance or embellish your experience and qualifications if you do not meet all of the criteria.Although you should aim to portray yourself as a strong and valuable candidate, honesty is always the best policy.
Graduate cover letters should follow the usual format for a business letter. Begin the letter with your name, address, telephone number and email on the top right of the page. Include the date that you send the letter.
Begin the letter with an appropriate salutation, such as Dear Sir or Madam, or if you have the name of the recruiter or manager, Dear Mr/Mrs/Ms/Miss etc.
Good practice for a cover letter is as follows:
- Open the letter with an introduction to yourself. Demonstrate that you have some knowledge about what the company does, eg by mentioning a new product it has released, or something about the organisation’s vision and values.
- Demonstrate your suitability through strong examples. Even if you don’t have much work experience, during your studies you will develop a number of transferable skills that you can highlight instead.
- Address all of the criteria in the person specification if this document was supplied.
- Give the employer or recruiter a reason for inviting you to interview.
- Demonstrate your written communication skills.
Close the letter in the correct manner. If the letter included Dear Mr/Mrs/Miss etc, then sign off with Yours Sincerely. If the letter was addressed Dear Sir or Madam, close with Yours Faithfully.
The cover letter is not a suitable place to experiment with artistic fonts and colours, even if you’re applying for a creative role. Keep all correspondence businesslike. Choose one of the popular fonts such as Arial, Calibri or Tahoma, and use a text size between 10 and 12.
4. Address The Letter To Someone
If possible, try to address your letter to a person rather than simply ‘Dear Sir or Madam’. If you are not sure about the correct spelling of the person’s name, telephone the company and ask them to confirm.
Sometimes names can apply to both genders, such as Charlie or Sam, in which case check whether the letter should be addressed to Mr/Mrs or Miss. Making a simple mistake such as this may be enough to result in your application being eliminated from the selection process, no matter how suitable you may be for the opportunity.
5. Opening Paragraph
It is good practice to open the letter by outlining where you found the job advertisement. Something such as, ‘Further to your advertisement for (Job Title) in (Publication/Website)… would be suitable.
As a graduate, the focus of your letter should be on your academic background. Usually this is because it is your main strength. Inform the employer of the full name of your course and where you studied. Highlight any major achievements that would help you to stand out.
7. Training And Internships
If you have completed any periods of work experience or voluntary placements, draw on these in your letter if relevant.
8. Special Skills
Do you have an excellent understanding of a technical skill mentioned in the advert? If so, mention it in your letter. Digital skills are particularly favoured by employers - so if you have coordinated a campaign or set up a website, identify a suitable opportunity and write about this in your letter.
Don’t forget: the aim of your letter is to impress the employer sufficiently that they will want to meet you. End your letter with a call to action, asking for an interview.
The final step in the process is to carefully proofread the letter before you send it. It’s the little things that matter when making a first impression. Make sure that the person’s name, the company name and the job title are spelled correctly.
Some Rules To Remember With Cover Letters
In addition to the ten tips above, these rules will stand you in good stead:
- Never write anything in your cover letter that cannot be supported by your CV or application form. HR staff will check documents to identify any discrepancies or mistakes.
- During the interview you will be asked questions about what you have written, so make sure that you can support what you have said with some good examples.
- Highlight the most important details that you want the employer to know. This could be a notable achievement, a promotion or a prestigious academic award.
- Refer the reader of your letter to your CV to obtain additional information.
Your cover letter is the first document that many recruiters read, more often than not even before they review your CV. Therefore this letter has to be compelling enough for them to want to read your CV, to find out more about your knowledge and skills.
Do’s and Don’ts When Writing a Graduate Covering Letter
- Tailor your letter to each job that you apply for
- Provide enough information about your skills but be concise
- Make the content persuasive and compelling
- Ensure that you proofread it
- Use a business format for the letter
- Use good quality paper, if you’re planning to post it
- Send a generic letter that could apply to any graduate job
- Say too much. As you write, always keep in mind whether the information that you are including is relevant to the role
- Write more than one side of A4
- Include any factual errors or inaccuracies
- Forget to add your contact details at the top of the letter
Writing a graduate CV takes time and care to put together. Following the steps in this guide should enable you to put together a comprehensive letter that gets you an interview.
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