A comprehensive guide to writing a cover letter

A comprehensive guide to writing a cover letter

Writing a cover letter is just as important as perfecting your CV and it’s key to your success in finding a job.

We understand that writing cover letters can seem daunting at first but our comprehensive guide to writing a cover letter will outline everything you need to know, including:

  • What is a cover letter and why it’s still important?
  • How to research and plan your cover letter
  • The basic format of a cover letter
  • Addressing the hiring manager and using the job description
  • How to market yourself in your cover letter
  • How to structure and write your cover letter, with examples
  • Using a cover letter to approach a company you’d like to work for
  • Top 10 quick tips for writing a successful cover letter

What is a cover letter and why is it still important?

A cover letter is a one-page document that accompanies your CV when you make a job application. The purpose of a cover letter is to introduce yourself and to highlight your key skills and intentions. It’s your opportunity to showcase both your personality and suitability for the role you are applying for.

Your cover letter shouldn’t just be a repeat of your CV. Instead, your cover letter should zoom in on key skills and experiences on your CV that you feel the employer will value the most.

As a result, your cover letter should be bespoke for every application.

Some recruiters may receive hundreds of applications a day, so your cover letter gives you a chance to stand out from the crowd and it’s an essential application component, you can’t afford to leave out.

Planning your cover letter

Planning and research are crucial to your cover letter.

  • The important things you should research before you begin writing your cover letter are:
  • Who will be receiving and reading your letter
  • The skills and experience mentioned in the job description
  • The company and its culture
  • Their competitors and market position
  • The sector and any recent news or trends
  • The organisation’s aims for that year and beyond

Building up a good knowledge of both the company and industry helps you to tailor your cover letter for each company you apply to. It also shows your passion for the job and sector.

The basic format of a cover letter

There is a basic format for writing a cover letter that you can follow each time. However, every cover letter you write should be tailored to the specific job role or company you’re applying for.

Your cover letter should address the following:

  • Which position interests you and why
  • Your most relevant skills and experiences
  • How your skills and experiences can benefit the employer
  • Your interest in an interview

How long should a cover letter be?

The length of your cover letter should be no longer than a single A4 page and around 250-300 words long. This can be tricky, especially since you want to impress the employer with all your skills and experience. But trust us; they simply won’t be interested in reading a 3,000-word essay. Even if they were, they probably just wouldn’t have the time! Keep it short, sweet, and simple.

Addressing the hiring manager

Each cover letter you write should be tailored specifically, to the company and role you’re writing it for, and it should be detailed. Therefore, you’ll want to avoid vague and generic phrases. Here are our top tips:

  • Make it personal – Find the name of the hiring manager. It will prove you’re a determined candidate who wants this job
  • If you don’t have a name – Start the letter with “Dear Sir or Madam” – but remember to sign off your letter with “Yours faithfully” instead

Using the job description

  • Address the skills and experiences mentioned in the job description – Mirror some of the phrases they use in the job description. Be sure to illustrate your skills with examples to show why you are the ideal candidate. As each company and role will be different, you’ll probably find that you’re using different examples on each letter.
  • Be specific – Having done your research, you should also be able to talk specifically about the company in greater detail. Refer to their values or specific campaigns that you enjoyed.

Illustrating these points in your cover letter will show a prospective employer you’re both prepared and keen. They’ll know that you took the time to learn about their company and that you’re genuinely interested in them and the role.

Marketing yourself in your cover letter

Your cover letter offers the perfect opportunity to promote yourself. In both your CV and your cover letter you should try to sell yourself to the company. There are several ways you can market yourself, and most of this will come from your research. They include:

  • Demonstrating knowledge – Include detail about the company and the sector so that you can effectively explain why you’ll be beneficial to their company
  • Listing your skills and qualifications – Mention all that are relevant to the job
  • Highlighting your interpersonal skills – Illustrate this by talking about social activities and clubs

All these aspects should help you build a case for why you’re going to add to the success of the company.

How to structure and write a cover letter

The structure of your cover letter is key. In this century, it’s rare for cover letters to be hard copies as most are sent online, however, your cover letter should be written like any other formal business letter, even if you are emailing it.

Start with your address and contact details in the top right-hand corner. Make sure your contact details are sensible and it makes you look very professional! You should follow this with the address of the company you’re applying for and further down on the left-hand side, the date.

[Your address Line 1]

[Address Line 2]

[Address Line 3]

[Phone Number]

 

[Company address line 1]

 

[Company address line 2]

 

[Date]

 

To [Name],

 

Paragraph 1 The introduction

Your cover letter’s opening paragraph should be brief and cover three things:

  • Why you’re writing to the company
  • The position you’re applying for
  • How you found out about the position

For example:

“I am writing to apply for the role of [job title], in response to an advert I saw on [name of job site]. Please find my CV attached.”

Paragraph 2: The by-line

  • The second paragraph of your cover letter should be about you:
  • Expand on your CV – Give a summary of any relevant skills or education you have. Remember, your cover letter shouldn’t be a copy of your CV.
  • Include your most notable achievements – show how these skills could benefit the employer.
  • Mirror the job description – Include phrases mentioned as well as the desired skills.

Paragraph 3: Display your knowledge

The third paragraph in your cover letter is your chance to show your knowledge of the company and the sector. You should include:

  • Specific details about why you want to work for their company.
  • A clear demonstration of how you can help the company and add to their success
  • Why you’ll fit in with the company culture and core values.

Paragraph 4: The conclusion

End your cover letter with a call to action.

  • As you’re hoping to secure an interview, let them know your availability for a call-back.
  • If you plan to follow up with a phone call, say so!
  • If you plan to wait for a response, close with “I look forward to hearing from you.” Thank them for taking the time to read your letter and sign off with “Yours sincerely, [Your Name]”

Sending your cover letter

When sending your cover letter online, if you just need to send your cover letter as an attachment, make sure you use the PDF file extension; this way any computer will be able to view the file, and all your formatting will be preserved.

If you need to send your cover letter as the actual body text of your email, your approach will need to be slightly different. First, make sure you format the subject line of your email like so:

Application for [Job Title] – [Your Name]

If you were given a reference number, include that in the subject line as well. Once you’ve done that, it’s time to think about the layout of your letter. The paragraphs can be the same as an original cover letter, but you can remove the addresses, date and signature.

If you’re applying for a job via a job board, you can sometimes afford to scale down your cover letter to key components. Check out this cover letter template:

Hi [Name],

 

I am interested in applying for the current vacancy you have for a [job title].

 

In my current role as [role title] with [company name], I am responsible for [insert relevant experience relating to job advert] but am currently looking to make a step up into a more challenging role with a reputable company who can offer career growth.

 

I am currently on a notice period of [notice period] and can interview immediately.

 

Kind regards,

 

[Name]

 

[Phone number]

 

[Email]

Using A Cover letter to approach a company

If you haven’t seen an advertised position, a cover letter is a great way to find out if a company currently has any vacancies. The format will be slightly different as you’ll be submitting a cold-contact cover letter.

  • Address the letter formally – Try to get hold of the name of the hiring manager.
  • Explain – As you aren’t responding to a job ad, you should use your opening paragraph to explain why you’re writing to them and what it was that drew you to their company.
  • Include contacts – If the reason for your application is a recommendation from someone, you know that already works there include their name.
  • Highlight your skills and experience – The body of the cover letter should remain the same, highlighting your skills and experiences and giving detailed examples. Reiterate why you’re interested in their company specifically, talk about the sector and show that you’ve done your research.
  • Tell them what you want – Refer to the area of the company that you’d like to go into, for example, marketing or sales.
  • Conclusion – close the letter by thanking them for their time and expressing your interest in hearing from them with any available job vacancies that they may have.

Remember, each cover letter should be unique (even if you follow the basic format). The aim is to make yourself stand out to recruiters.

Top 10 quick tips for writing a successful cover letter

Finally, following these top ten cover letter tips for success will ensure that you avoid making fatal cover letter mistakes.

1. Make it easy to read

Make your cover letter easy to read. Recruiters will give each letter about 20 to 30 seconds of their time so make it quick and easy for them to see what a great candidate you are and quickly establish yourself as a suitable for the role.

2. Avoid clichés in your cover letter

Each letter should be personal, so avoid phrases that recruiters have read a thousand times! Don’t just say “I’m a team player”, these buzzwords won’t make you stand out. Instead, choose an example of when you worked well in a team and explain what happened and what you achieved.

3. Be creative in your cover letter

Writing cover letters doesn’t have to be boring; you can be a bit creative in your approach – especially if you’re going into a creative industry or job role. Play around with layouts and formats; as long as all the important information is in there and the layout isn’t distracting, have fun with it!

4. Don’t mention your weaknesses

There are some things you don’t need to include in a cover letter and weakness or skills you lack, top the lists.

5. Address any employment gaps

If you have gaps in employment, then this is a fantastic opportunity to offer an explanation. Only do this briefly and be sure to follow it up with details of your relevant skills and talents.

6. Use bullet points

This is not always necessary but, depending on the format you’ve chosen or the job role you’re applying for, bullet points can be an effective way of demonstrating your points and adding to the layout.

7. Use numbers

If you can, use numbers or stats to illustrate your points as it’s a nice way to quantify your results and adds to the format of the letter.

8. Proofread your cover letter

Once you’ve written your letter, check it over for mistakes and get someone else read it over too. Recruiters aren’t going to take you seriously if you’ve made silly spelling or grammar mistakes!

9. Sign your cover letter by hand

If you’re sending the letter in the post (old school, we know) then you should sign the letter by hand before you send it off—it adds a personal and more professional touch. Add an e-signature if sending online

10. Follow the instructions in the job posting

A basic skill all employers are looking for is someone who can follow instructions. Be sure to follow the instructions including how to send your cover letter and CV, attaching them in the method and according to the guidelines specified.

By following these guidelines you’ll be ahead of many other applicants applying to roles and one step nearer to securing an interview. Try to have fun with it and best of luck!

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