When it comes to job hunting, getting your cover letter right is just as important as perfecting your CV! Your cover letter is a way to introduce yourself to the employer and is sent to accompany and expand upon your CV.
Some recruiters may receive hundreds of applications a day, so your cover letter gives you a chance to stand out from the crowd (and with only 20 to 30 seconds to grab their attention, it needs to be good!)
We know that writing these letters can seem daunting at first, especially as it can feel like there’s a lot to remember. To help, we’ve put together a comprehensive guide to building your cover letter and tailoring it for each opportunity you apply to.
Do your research
Research is a crucial part of many aspects of job hunting, and before you begin writing your cover letter you need to make sure you’ve done your research properly.
The important things you should research before writing are:
- Who will be receiving and reading your letter
- The company and its culture
- Their competitors and market position
- The sector and any recent news or trends
Building up a good knowledge of the company and industry helps you to tailor your cover letter for each company you apply to, and shows your passion for the job and sector.
The basic format
There’s a basic format for writing a cover letter that you can follow each time. However, every letter you write should be tailored to the specific job role or company you’re applying for. Below is a basic break down of how you should structure your letter.
Addressing the letter
Your cover letter should be addressed as any formal letter would be, starting with your address and contact details in the top right hand corner. Make sure your contact details are sensible—email addresses like email@example.com aren’t going to make you look very professional! You should then follow this with the address of the company you’re applying for and the date further down and on the left had side.
[Address Line 1]
[Address Line 2]
[Address Line 3]
[Company Address Line 1]
[Company Address Line 2]
Your opening paragraph should be short and sweet made up of three things: why you’re writing the letter; the position you’re applying for; how you found out about the position. For example: ‘I am writing to apply for the role of , in response to an advert I saw on [name of job site. Please find my CV attached.’
The second paragraph should be about you, expanding on your CV and giving a brief summary of any relevant skills or education you have. You should also provide examples of when you’ve used these skills effectively. Your examples should also highlight why you’d be good at the role and should mirror the skills requested in the job spec.
The third paragraph is your chance to show your knowledge of the company and the sector, and go into detail about why you want to work for their company specifically. You should state how you can help the company and add to their success, as well as why you’ll fit in with their company culture and core values.
End your 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:
Tailoring each cover letter
During the research stage, try to find the name of the hiring manager or whoever will be reading your letter. This way you can make the letter even more personal and it will prove you’re a determined candidate who wants this job.
If you really can’t get hold of their name, you should instead start the letter with ‘Dear Sir or Madam’—but remember, if you don’t know they’re name, ensure you sign off your letter with ‘Yours faithfully’ instead.
Read over the job description so you can pick which of your skills or experiences to reference, and try to mirror some of the phrases they use in the job description. Illustrate your skills with examples to show why you’re the ideal candidate; as each company and role will be different, you’ll probably find that you’re using different examples on each letter.
Having done your research, you should also be able to talk specifically about the company in greater detail. Make reference to their values or specific campaigns they have run that you enjoyed. This way they’ll know that you took the time to learn about their company and that you’re genuinely interested in them and in the role.
In both your CV and your cover letter you should try to imagine yourself as a commodity and sell yourself to the company. There are several ways you can market yourself, and most of this will come from your research.
You need to demonstrate your knowledge of the company and the sector, so that you can effectively explain why you’ll be beneficial to their company. As well as listing your skills and qualifications you could also demonstrate your interpersonal skills through 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 their company.
Top tips for success
1. Keep it short
It may seem difficult with so much information to include, but you need to keep your cover letter short and sweet. Recruiters will give each letter about 20 to 30 seconds of their time, so it should be no more than an A4 page—they won’t trawl through ten pages, no matter how experienced and skilled you are.
2. Don’t just re-write your CV
The point of a cover letter is to expand upon your CV, not just re-write it—your CV should be attached to accompany your letter. Make sure you pick the most relevant examples and give details of your achievements.
3. Sign 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.
4. Sending online
Macs and PCs haven’t quite learnt to work in total harmony yet, and the last thing you want is the recruiter being unable to open your document. Instead save your final CV as a pdf file; that way you know they’ll be able to open it on any device.
Once you’ve written your letter, check it over for mistakes and perhaps even have someone else read it over too. Recruiters aren’t going to take you seriously if you’ve made silly spelling or grammar mistakes.
6. Avoid clichés
Each letter should be personal, so avoid clichéd phrases that recruiters have read a thousand times! Don’t just say “I’m a team player”, these buzzwords and phrases 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.
7. Use numbers
If you can, use numbers or stats to illustrate your points. This won’t apply for everyone, and in some sectors it will be easier than others, but it’s a nice way to quantify your results and also adds to the format of the letter.
8. Be creative
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!
9. 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 could be an effective way of demonstrating your points and adding to the layout.
Cover letters as emails
Sometimes you will not be required to attach your cover letter as a separate document, but will instead have to use the body of an email as your letter—this can often happen when applying through online job sites.
In this instance, you should still follow the basic format of the letter, but there’s no need for the formality of the addresses at the top. You should instead go straight into the body of the text. Sign off the email with your name and mobile number at the bottom.
The subject line of the email is very important; it should include the job title and your name, for example: Application for [Job Title] – [Your Name].
In some cases you may be given a reference number for the job role; if so, you should include this in the subject line.
When there’s no job advertised
If you haven’t seen an advertised position but you’re contacting a company to find out if they currently have any vacancies, the format will be slightly different as you’ll be submitting a cold-contact cover letter.
You should address the letter formally as before, and try to get hold of the name of the hiring manager.
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. If the reason for your application is a recommendation from someone you know that already works there include their name.
You should also make reference to the area of the company that you’d like to go into, for example marketing or sales.
The body of the letter should remain relatively the same, still 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.
In this instance you should 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), and the aim is to make yourself stand out to recruiters. Follow these steps to writing your cover letter, and try to have fun with it!