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How to write a cover letter

by Sellick Partnership | 21 August 2020

Cover letters – sometimes referred to as covering letters – remain a key part of the vast majority of job applications. With competition growing for each and every available position, they offer an essential opportunity to help you stand out from the crowd and make a case for your suitability in the role.

While your CV offers a brief overview of your work experience, it does not provide much room to demonstrate why you are the best candidate for a specific position or highlight aspects of your personality that make you a great fit for the company.

In this article, we will offer you advice on how to make sure your cover letter is as effective as possible.

What is a cover letter?

A cover letter is a document that is sent to a prospective employer or hiring manager to accompany your CV when applying for a job.

It is designed to complement your CV and therefore offer additional information and justification for hiring you for a position, beyond what is already in your CV.

Do I need a cover letter?

It is best to assume that a cover letter is required for any and all job applications unless it is explicitly stated in the job advert that you should not send one.

Cover letter writing tips

Having helped countless professionals secure their dream jobs and take the next step on their career ladder, we know what an effective cover letter looks like.

Here are our top tips for getting your covering letter right.

Review and interpret the job description

Study the job description in depth before getting started on your cover letter.

Most job descriptions will detail the essential and desired skills and characteristics of the person who eventually takes on the role, and your cover letter gives you the perfect opportunity to demonstrate to employers that you have what they need.

Sometimes online job adverts will take the form of summarised versions of a more comprehensive job description that you can find elsewhere – often on the careers page of the company’s website. Take time to find the most detailed job description that is available before proceeding with your cover letter.

Review and interpret the job description

Find out as much as you can about the company in question, as this can give you powerful ammunition for your cover letter that will help to persuade the hiring manager that you are a great fit for the organisation.

Pay particular attention to the ‘about us’ pages on the company website, or the recruitment or careers section. This is where you will find clues as to the core values that underpin the organisation and the kinds of things they are looking for in an employee.

Think about your own values and how they relate to those of the employer. How can you convey in your cover letter that you will be a perfect culture fit?

Be clear and concise

Much like your CV, your cover letter should convey all the most important information to support your application as concisely as possible.

This is no easy task, as you will have plenty to say to a potential employer about why you are the best person for the role.

But it is important to limit what you include in your cover letter. Your letter should ideally be around 250-300 words long and not take too much time to get through – think of all the applications that hiring managers will have to read through.

Those that can keep their cover letters clear, simple and short will make the most impact.

Be positive

Keep your cover letter upbeat and positive, and try to avoid any negative comments whatsoever, for example towards your current or previous employer.

Use dynamic language that shows how motivated you are and convey the energy that you would bring to the role in question.

Proofread

It might go without saying, but you will reduce the chances of success if your cover letter contains spelling or grammatical errors – no matter how small.

This is your chance to demonstrate how capable you are compared to the competition. Mistakes in your cover letter suggest you do not care enough about the role or respect the time of the hiring manager enough to check your work. It also implies that you have poor attention to detail, which is not the impression you want to make when applying for a job.

Cover letter structure, formatting and layout

Many people we speak to wonder about the correct structure and formatting of a cover letter.

The best cover letters are between four and five paragraphs and 250-300 words long.

You should try and find the name of the person who is going to read it if possible, either by researching online or even getting in touch with the organisation directly.

If you cannot find the contact, you should use a generic message such as ‘Dear Sir/Madam’.

The structure of the cover letter should then flow as follows:

  • Paragraph one — Explain why you are writing the letter, stating the job title you are applying for and, if you feel it is necessary, where you saw the job advertised.
  • Paragraph two — State why you are suitable for the role, listing the most relevant skills and experiences with evidence if possible.
  • Paragraph three — Emphasise how these skills and experiences can benefit the company, including any relevant figures or statistics that back up the impact you are capable of having within the new organisation.
  • Paragraph four — Summarise the letter by reiterating why you would be a good fit for the role and close by requesting an interview or indicating that you are open to meeting the employer to discuss your application further.

If you used a generic greeting, sign off the letter with ‘Yours faithfully’ and if you addressed someone directly, use ‘Yours sincerely’.

The cover letter is just one of many parts of a job application that will ultimately lead to an offer, but that does not mean it is any less important than the other aspects of the process.

Getting the cover letter wrong can instantly leave you on the discarded pile, while getting it right can put you in pole position for an interview. So make sure you put the time into doing it justice and boost your chances of success.

Applying for jobs? Why not read our tips on how to perfect your CV.