You’ve found your dream job. You read the job description and it seems like you’re a great match, so you apply. You upload your recently spruced up CV and then proceed to the next part of the application where it says: ‘Cover Letter (Optional)’.
You’ve spent a lot of time perfecting your CV. That’s a given. So it can seem like a waste of time to essentially transfer that information into a cover letter, right? Wrong.
The cover letter is your opportunity to truly sell yourself. Your CV sells your skills, but a lot of applicants will have similar information in this respect. Your cover letter is your chance to stand out and get noticed, letting your personality shine through. Perfecting your cover letter for every job application is definitely worth the time and effort.
Here are some of the most important cover letter writing tips:
- Do #1: Display you have carried out thorough research
- Do #2: Grab their attention with a strong opening statement
- Do #3: Clearly exhibit the value you would add to the company
- Do #4: Highlight your enthusiasm for the job
- Do #5: Say more by saying less
- Do #6: Make sure you address it to the right person
- Do #7: Make sure you get your cover letter format right
- Do #8: Make sure you tailor each cover letter you write
- Do #9: Remember to follow up after sending your cover letter
What is a cover letter?
A cover letter is a written document that is often submitted alongside a CV when you’re applying for a job. Sometimes referred to as a ‘letter of introduction’ or an ‘application letter’, it is essentially an opportunity to sell your application and showcase yourself as an eligible candidate before the hiring organisation reviews your CV.
It is crucial to remember that your cover letter should never duplicate your CV or resume, but rather complement it by mentioning why you (as highlighted by your skills and experience on your CV) are the right person for the job.
Do you need a cover letter for every job application?
There’s a lot of conflicting advice out there from a wide range of sources. Many people question whether it’s worthwhile nowadays when prospective employers can access the information they need simply by looking at your LinkedIn profile. Others will say that not sending a cover letter is a clear sign of laziness - similar to leaving spelling errors in your CV.
“57% of professionals rank a cover letter as an essential aspect of every job application.”
We’ll leave it to you to pick which side you sit on, but we will say this: Producing a high-quality cover letter is your unique opportunity to set yourself apart from other applicants by explaining why you’re the best candidate for the job.
How to write a cover letter that captures the hiring manager’s attention
So, you have this priceless opportunity to emphasise your suitability to the employer for the job they are advertising. How can you make sure you nail it? Here are 5 key areas hiring managers look out for...
Do #1: Display you have carried out thorough research
Before you put pen to paper for your cover letter, you should always do some proper research. This means doing more than just reading the job description.
Not only will your investigation provide priceless context and background knowledge, but learning more about the business you are applying to join will also guide how you should alter the tone of voice of your cover letter.
The key things you may want to find out include:
- The name and job title of whoever is likely to receive your cover letter
- What the company’s corporate culture is like
- Their position in the market and closest competitors
- Any recent news or significant trends for the sector
- The company’s goals and objectives
- Whether there are any challenges the company faces
Do #2: Grab their attention with a strong opening statement
You have a portfolio of precious knowledge stashed away. Now it’s time to get writing.
As with any piece of writing, you need to grab the reader’s attention straight away or you risk losing them. A lot of other applicants will go for the inevitable “I’m applying for this role because…”, so think outside the box. What’s different about you? What is the leading thing about you they would be interested to hear? Remember, they will want someone who is genuinely excited by the job and is the right fit - try to convey that.
Think outside the box, but we would recommend avoiding humour. It’s fine to be light hearted (still, judge this on a company-by-company basis), but it is a professional job application after all.
Note: If you have a personal connection with the company or one of its employees, mention that as early as possible.
Do #3: Clearly exhibit the value you would add to the company
In many instances, the purpose of hiring a new employee is to find someone who can help the business solve problems - this is a huge generalisation, but more often than not, it is the truth. Hiring managers will be looking for evidence in your cover letter that you can help the team or department you’ll be joining solve their problems.
The best way to do this is to write about how your past professional experience has equipped you to take on challenges encountered in your role, and then relate them to the specific vacancy and company you are applying to.
Do #4: Highlight your enthusiasm for the job
This new job opportunity is exciting; it’s a chance to progress your career alongside like-minded colleagues, whilst working for a company you’ve admired for some time. You really, really want the job. You wouldn’t be applying otherwise, right?
Well then, make that abundantly clear in your cover letter. Lots of other applicants will have the right skills and experience, some may even be better equipped than you are, but enthusiasm and dedication to the job is what the hiring manager will be looking out for. Put your heart and soul into the cover letter and be authentic; authenticity sells.
Try to match your writing to the sort of language the hiring manager, or whoever is likely to review your application, would use with their customers.
In order to get a grasp of this, you may have to do a bit of additional research, but that’s a small sacrifice to make for taking a large stride towards getting your dream job.
Do #5: Say more by saying less
How long should a cover letter be? Well, a lot of sources will say that 1 side of A4 is the appropriate length for your cover letter. But why not go shorter?
The most important thing to remember here is that there is already a huge amount of information on your CV.
Your cover letter should not just reword what’s on your CV.
Yes you can re-emphasise key aspects that are closely related to the new job, but otherwise refrain from duplicating your skills and past experience. If you manage to do that, you will have more freedom to convey your enthusiasm for the job and the letter will be short enough that the hiring manager can read it at just a glance.
If you can describe all necessary information and display your desire for the role in as little time as possible, you will show yourself as a concise communicator.
More: Cover letter best practice
We’ve taken you through how you should approach the contents of your cover letter and now we’re going to go over the best practice when you’re writing it.
Do #6: Make sure you address it to the right person
Coming before your opening statement, the salutation is the first thing the hiring manager will read. It is vital that you correctly address your cover letter to the right person.
Find out the name and job title of the person who will be dealing with your application. Quite often there will be contact details on the job description or advert, but if not, do a bit of digging on LinkedIn or the company’s ‘meet the team’ page on its website.
You may have to use your initiative a bit, but it will definitely be worth it. ‘To whom it may concern’ or ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ is generic and should pretty much be your last resort.
Do #7: Make sure you get your cover letter format right
You want to draw attention to your most relevant skills and experiences and then highlight how they can benefit the employer if you were successful in your application. Here’s how to effectively order your cover letter:
Paragraph 1: Catch the imagination of the reader with an interesting opening statement and why you want to get the job.
Paragraph 2: Now go into a bit more detail about why you’re suited to the job, linking your skills and experience to the job description, outlining what benefits you can bring to the organisation.
Paragraph 3: Focus a bit of attention on why you’re particularly interested in working for the company - what was it that attracted you to apply?
Closing paragraph: Round up your letter and re-emphasise your interest in the job before thanking the employer for reviewing your application and that you look forward to hearing from them in due course.
Do #8: Make sure you tailor each cover letter you write
This is your opportunity to stand out from the crowd and get noticed. That means you need to be original and different.
If you’re applying to several vacancies and decide to use the same cover letter that has just been tweaked slightly with adjusted salutations, you’re clearly not dedicated to the job search. You’re wasting your own precious time as well as the hiring manager’s. Write a completely new cover letter for every position you apply to.
Avoid using vague or generic phrases, mirror the terminology used in the job description, illustrate your most relevant skills with clear examples and always refer to their company values or culture.
Taking the time over your cover letter will be worth it!
Do #9: Remember to follow up after sending your cover letter
You’ve made a real effort to get your cover letter close to perfect. You’ve matched up your skills with what the hiring organisation requires, you’ve drawn attention to how much you want the job and to work for the business and you’ve done it all in a concise, thoroughly checked, manner. You click send.
Now you could just wait to hear back, or you could be proactive and send a follow up email to confirm that your application (and all accompanying documents) has been received.
Not only is this good practice, but it also puts you directly in the hiring manager’s inbox, meaning they will be more likely to remember your name and application, putting yourself in the best possible position of being invited to interview.
Give yourself a pat on the back. You’ve just made the perfect application to your dream job.
5 Don’ts: Common cover letter blunders to avoid
Before you finish reading and head off to nail your cover letter (if you’ve got one to write and that’s why you’re here), take a look at these 5 common mistakes that people make when writing theirs:
- Your salutation isn’t specific - Your cover letter should always be directly addressed to the person who will be dealing with your application. More often than not, there will be a contact on the job description, but if not some simple LinkedIn investigation should give you what you need.
- You’ve just rewritten your CV - Just rewriting your CV is not the best way to sell yourself in a cover letter. It should be unique and prove to the potential employer that you are a worthy applicant. Be original and make yourself stand out.
- Your opening line is boring - You need to create a sense of intrigue. Think creatively how you can write about yourself and your career to captivate the reader’s imagination straight away - attention spans are notoriously short, so make an early impact!
- You’ve waffled on - There is not enough space to recount your entire life story, and anyway it is not relevant to the application. Be clear, concise, and keep it under 1 side of A4.
- You’ve said the job will help develop your skills - Whilst it very much may be true, telling your potential future employer how much you’d love this job because it will give you the chance to progress through your career is not something to include on your cover letter. Remember, you want to show what you can bring to the team not how this job will help you.