A cover letter is a concise single-page letter addressed to a potential employer that accompanies your CV and should be part of any job application. The only time a cover letter should not be included is when the job ad clearly states so.
What is the purpose of a cover letter?
A cover letter should complement, not duplicate your CV. It is an opportunity to express your personality to a potential employer and sell yourself as a perfect fit for their team. It is often your earliest written contact with the company therefore creating a critical first impression.
It is crucial that your cover letter is completely clear of grammatical errors and well written. Your letter reflects your ability to write and communicate - ensure it is letter-perfect before sending it out.
Cover letters can be targeted to a specific job advertised by a company or can be a general letter expressing interest in pursuing future employment with them.
It is essential to customise your cover letter for each position you're applying to. Don't make the reader guess what you are asking for; be specific: Do you want a summer internship opportunity, a place on a graduate programme, full-time/part-time work etc.
Guidelines for writing a Cover Letter
Be concise – your cover letter should be 4/5 short informative paragraphs. Presenting it in a precise and upbeat manner will entice the reader to move on to your CV.
Your cover letter will stand out if you employ some creativity. For example, you could include a brief summary of your toughest sale or most challenging project.
A jobseeker should never use their cover letter to provide a narrative of their life or career. It’s a marketing tool that should focus on the qualifications that will sell you to the employer. Your letter should answer the question that the employer will be asking while reading it: “Why should I hire this person?”
1. Addressing your cover letter
It is best to personalise your cover letter as it shows you have taken the initiative to do some research and are serious about getting the job. In most cases you can locate the name of the HR Director or relevant contact through the company’s website or LinkedIn profile.
2. Opening Paragraph
Use the first paragraph to grab the employer’s attention. Tell the employer why you are writing and summarize the reasons you are qualified for the position, expanding on your qualifications in later paragraphs.
Create a personable, inviting opening paragraph that conveys your enthusiasm and highlights how your skills are a perfect fit for the position. State why you are interested in the employer or type of work the employer does - simply stating that you are interested does not explain why.
3. Main body of the letter (this can be split into a few succinct sections)
Employers are looking for candidates who will add value and generate positive results for their organisation. It is therefore critical to integrate results-oriented language into your cover letter. Highlight your past achievements and always refer to the skills that are specified in the job description.
Examples of results-oriented keywords include: increased, reduced, redesigned, upgraded, initiated, implemented, reformulated, generated and produced.
"I increased sales by 20% in my first six months with the company by implementing a performance and mentoring system. I would be enthusiastic to introduce this concept to your team as I am confident it would generate a high sales growth for your department."
Focus on the employer’s needs, highlighting specifically how you can meet them. Mention educational qualifications all the time stating clearly about what you can do for the employer, not what the employer can do for you. Be careful not to give too much away here, this is not supposed to be a summary of your CV.
You can use bullet points in the main body of the letter if you prefer. This will enable the reader to scan the information and absorb it easily.
|Note: you don’t always need direct experience… If this is your first job or you’re changing careers then use experience from your life, school or different roles to demonstrate transferable skills. Demonstrate that you know enough about the employer or position to relate your background and life experience to it.
At the end of this paragraph you can refer to any information specifically requested in the job advertisement that might not be covered in your CV, such as availability date, or reference to an attached writing sample or portfolio.
4. Closing Paragraph
Be pro-active - It is a good idea to sign off with a positive statement to prompt the employer to take action. Thank the reader for his/her time and consideration and note that you are available to be contacted at any stage - always make your contact details clear and visible.
State what you will do to follow up, such as telephone call within two weeks. Following up with a phone call can show initiative and will prompt the employer to give your CV another look, however be mindful not to harass them as this may have the opposite effect.
It is useful to have another set of eyes read over your cover letter once it is complete to ensure there are no errors – it can come down to the smallest of details when employers are shortlisting candidates for a position.