A well-written cover letter is one of the most important tools you have to convince your employer that you are the right person for the job. Recruitment companies and hiring managers are looking for strong cover letters that can demonstrate how your skills and expertise can add value to the company you want to work for.
At the basic level, a strong cover letter should include the following:
- Customise your layout – no two jobs are the same
- Introduce who you are
- Describe the role and your reason for applying
- Demonstrate your qualifications and experience
- Aim for a single page
- Proofread your cover letter
With our expert tips below, learn more about how to write a perfect cover letter and get your application to the top of the pile.
Why is it important?
Writing a cover letter is a task that requires research, consideration and personalisation. If you nail the application letter, you’ll be well on your way to landing the job you’ve dreamed of. But a poorly written cover letter - even if you are the perfect candidate for the job - will see your CV go straight to the bottom of the pile.
What is a cover letter?
In effect, it is a letter to the hiring manager that accompanies the resume. These days, most CVs are emailed or submitted electronically, and the cover letter will either be the first page of the document or included as an accompanying attachment.
The purpose of a cover letter is to give a preview, or a sneak-peak, into what your resume will contain. It links your CV to the role that you are applying for and persuades the hiring manager that your application is worth the time to read.
The covering letter is often overlooked, or approached as an after-thought. After all, you’ve spent hours perfecting your resume – surely the CV is the most important element? The cover letter in fact is usually the first thing an employer will see, before they begin to read your CV.
Is a covering letter mandatory?
Imagine your CV is a book: the story of your career. You’ve laboured over the manuscript and hope that it will be published one day. The cover letter is the letter to the publisher, convincing them why they should read your manuscript. It’s the opportunity for you to make a connection and to convince them that your book – or the story of your career – is worth reading.
Some employers specifically request a cover letter. If they do, then you can be confident that they will read it. A cover letter is not always mandatory – however, even if employers don’t specify that a letter is required, you should still invest the time to write one. It demonstrates your enthusiasm for the job and shows that you have taken the time to consider the particular role’s requirements and how you can add value to their business.
How long should the letter be?
The purpose of a cover letter is to sell your skills and ability to the hiring manager - think of it as your one chance to catch their eye to read your resume.
A good covering letter should be succinct. Keep your cover letter to four paragraphs that fit on one page in total. If your letter is any longer, it will only demonstrate to your employer that you lack focus.
When it comes to writing an effective letter, remember the three C’s: Connect, Convince and Courtesy. The purpose is to first Connect with your hiring manager. Then you should aim to Convince the hiring manager that your CV is worth reading.
Whilst including a cover letter may seem old-fashioned, such Courtesies are highly valued in the professional world, and a professional letter will thank the hiring manager for their time reading your CV and considering you for the role.
Making the decision to embark on a new career is one thing; convincing a hiring manager that you’re the right fit for a new industry and job type can be a far greater challenge – one that can demand a compelling covering letter.
If you’re struggling to find the right words to land you that new gig, read on for handy tips on how to write a cover letter for a new career.
What information should you include?
Your letter should always include your contact details, and follow a clear structure, to convince the hiring manager that your CV is the one they should read. You should ensure your cover letter adheres to a formal letter format, for example addressing the reader by name.
Here is a definitive list of what to include - and what to avoid.
How to personalise
Remember that it should never be generic – it should be personalised and tailored to the job and company that you are applying for.
Have attention to detail. Scrutinise the job advertisement and ensure the details are exactly mirrored in your resume. For example, if job applications are to be sent to ‘Stephanie Green, HR Manager’, ensure that Stephanie’s name and title are on your cover letter and the spelling is exact. If the job title that you are applying for is ‘Administration Assistant’, ensure that you don’t write ‘Administration Coordinator’.
Reference relevant skills and experience. If you’ve done your research, you will know exactly what kind of skills and experience the hiring manager is looking for. For example, if the advertisement mentions that they are looking for a Project Manager who is ‘excellent at stakeholder engagement’, you could say; “As a Project Manager with eight years’ experience, I am known for my ability to influence and engage key stakeholders to achieve business goals.”
Reference the company. In your research, you may have identified what the company goals or values are. Ensure that you reference those goals and values, and articulate how they reflect your own goals and values.
How to create the perfect layout
Learning how to write a cover letter can be time-consuming, but once you have practiced it, it will become second nature.
Investing the time to tailor and personalise will always stand you in good stead, and help your application stand out from the crowd.
Cover letter templates
If you need to write a cover letter, you may consider using a cover letter template, or cover letter examples to inspire you. Whether you decide to use a cover letter template or not in your job search, it is key to use it as inspiration, or as a stepping stone to creating your unique cover letter.
Always remember that your objective is to stand out, and you can only stand out if you invest the time to craft a cover letter that is personalised, tailored and convincing.
Cover letter pros and cons
When deciding whether or not to use a template, there are some pros and cons to consider.
- Templates can save you time, as there will be a standard structure that you can follow. You won't have to spend time thinking about what you should include, as there will be clear prompts to guide you.
- Templates and examples can also give you inspiration in terms of the key messages that you should include, and the type of language you should use. They also give you tips on correct formatting, and the types of formalities that you can incorporate.
- The purpose of a cover letter is to convince the hiring manager that your unique CV is worth reading. That means that your letter needs to be unique, personalised and tailored. If you use a template or an existing example, there is a chance your cover letter could be perceived as being generic, and you won’t be as convincing as you need to be.
- If you use a template that you have downloaded from the internet, there is a chance that someone else might have used the same template. It is hard to stand out if your cover letter looks exactly the same as someone else’s.