Knowing what to include in a cover letter can be the difference between grabbing a hiring manager's attention, or ending up in the rejection pile. Similar to a resume, a cover letter is a unique document that should involve careful consideration before submitting.
This is Robert Half's definitive list of what should be included in a cover letter and what to avoid.
What should you include in a cover letter?
If your cover letter gets printed off, it will likely be stapled to a CV. Ensure your contact details are easily located on the cover letter – it will make it that much easier for them to pick up the phone and invite you in for an interview.
Ensure your cover letter adheres to a formal letter format. This includes addressing the reader by name (if you know it); for example, ‘Dear Stephanie’; or if you don’t know the name, ‘To whom it may concern’. You should also sign your cover letter with a formal ‘Yours sincerely’.
Follow this four-step structure to convince the hiring manager that your CV is the one they should read when you find the perfect role during your job search activities:
Paragraph 1: Tell the employer who you are and why you are contacting them (for example, you saw the job advertised on SEEK or a colleague referred you to the role).
Paragraph 2: Read the job advertisement or job description and make specific reference to three skills and work experience that the hiring manager is looking for. Most importantly, convince the hiring manager why your skills and experience are the right match for the role.
Paragraph 3: Add value. Identify three ways in which you can add value to the business through your unique skill set, experience and personal attributes.
Paragraph 4: State your availability (be specific as to when) for an interview.
This is a simple one, but it’s one of the most important - and easily overlooked - elements of knowing what to write in a cover letter. The hiring manager has just spent minutes of their lives reading your cover letter, and will hopefully invest minutes and hours more reading your CV, interviewing you and employing you. Ensure you thank them for their time and consideration.
What should you exclude from a cover letter?
A cover letter is not the time to use buzzwords and get poetic about your search for the perfect role. Your words should be professional and succinct.
Too many 'I'
Avoid overusing the word 'I', in particular at the beginning of paragraphs.
Skill or experience gaps
Now is not the time to highlight your gaps. However, if there is an essential requirement you do not fulfil, a cover letter is the perfect opportunity to proactively address it.
Take a look at our cover letter tips hub for more cover letter writing tips and examples.