Career ladder

Top tips for writing a cover letter

Employers may receive hundreds of applications for a job, so it’s vital to make sure that the letter or email you send with your CV creates the right impression. It’s your opportunity to say why you want the job and to present yourself as a candidate for the post in a way that impresses a prospective employer and makes you stand out as a prospective employee.

1 Tailor your cover letter

Your mission in applying for a job is quite simple: to be called for interview. You therefore have to demonstrate to potential employers two things:

  1. that the skills and attributes you possess will benefit their organization;

  2. that you have specific and cogent reasons for wanting to work with them, rather than anybody else.

To achieve those two goals, it is vital to tailor your letter to the organization in question: a generic cover letter simply will not do.

2 One page is enough

The optimum length for a standard cover letter is just one page, but it is not obligatory to fill the whole page. It complements your CV; it should not repeat it. Prospective employers receive dozens, if not hundreds, of CVs with cover letters. They simply have no time to read anything longer than one page.

Reflect the organization’s values and goals

If you are serious about working for the organization you are applying to, you have to make sure both that you suit it and that it suits you.

Research what it says – online, in brochures, in advertising – about its history, current practice, mission statement, and so forth. Then see how those match your skills and aspirations and try to make a link between them in your cover letter. But don’t just parrot their exact wording. It sounds robotic, and employers hate it.

4 Use the appropriate tone

A cover letter is a formal document that has to be written in a particular style. But that does not mean it should be overly formal. It is best to use neutral language, and to avoid jargon and technical terms, unless they are directly relevant to the post you are applying for. Avoid contractions: write I am applying rather than I’m applying; I have gained, not I’ve gained.

5 Check and double-check

 There are two main reasons for doing so. Most importantly, to avoid spelling mistakes. A single spelling mistake usually means instant rejection. It suggests not only that your spelling may be shaky, but also that you are not thorough.

Second, avoid repetition. Do not present the same information twice in different words, and try to avoid repeating words, e.g. career, skills, goals, unnecessarily.

If you can, get a partner, colleague, or friend to read the letter over. They may spot things you have missed. 

6 Beginnings and endings

  • If writing to a named individual, make sure you get their name and job title exactly right.
  • Use Dear Ms/Mrs/Mr/Dr and surname only. Sign off a letter to a named person Yours sincerely.
  • If you do not know the person’s name, write Dear Sir or Madam. Sign off Yours faithfully.
  • Remember to type your name as well, to go under your signature.

 

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