How to Write the Perfect Cover Letter
You've spent ages crafting your perfect CV but now you're stumped when it comes to your cover letter.
You're most definitely not alone! Writing a strong, successful cover letter is one of the trickiest stages of getting a new job.
So how can you get it right first time? Follow our guide and write the perfect cover letter for every position you apply for.
What is a cover letter?
A cover letter is simply a one-page document that you submit along with your CV when you apply for a new job.
It should contain a summary of your work experience which is relevant to the role you’re applying for. Its purpose is to briefly yet compelling introduce you and your skills to the recruiter or hiring manager so that they want to find out more about you and your suitability for the role.
Letters like these used to literally cover your CV back in the days before LinkedIn, Dropbox, and even email, when people had to rely on the post service to send in their applications!
Although the vast majority of applications are now submitted electronically, it’s still common practice for employers to ask you to provide a cover letter with your CV.
How should you format a cover letter?
Your cover letter should complement your CV and should be in keeping with the same professional style.
Use the same font as you have in your CV - Calibri, Arial and Verdana are all suitable options - and make sure your letter is presented in the format of a business letter. Keep the tone professional too and avoid using any slang words and colloquialisms.
Keep in mind that the first person to view your application may work in the HR department or be using sifting software so try to avoid using a lot of technical jargon. This can be off-putting even to those who work in your industry.
What should you include in your cover letter?
Your cover letter needs to be very brief to ensure that your potential employer actually reads it and is easily able to see that you have skills and experience that are relevant to the role.
You don’t need to tell your life story here, just get straight to the point and focus on two key things - why you want the job and why you’re qualified to do it.
You should always write a new cover letter for each role you’re applying for as it needs to be specific to each role and each organisation.
While you might be applying for very similar roles with different organisations, you should still tailor your letter instead of writing generic reasons for wanting the job that could apply to any role or organisation.
This is a bit lazy and is also not likely to get you very far. It’s much better to spend time researching the organisation and find things that would make you proud to work there. When you write about these reasons, your passion will shine through and you’ll come across as the attractive and engaged candidate that you are!
How to write your header section
Start your cover letter right with a professional header section. Here you should definitely include:
- Your full name
- Your phone number
- Your email address
- The name of the recruiter/hiring manager (if you know it)
- The address of the organisation
- The date
You can also add in:
- Your current job title
- Your home address
- Links to any professional websites you have created (this is more relevant for roles in Web/Graphic design, but you could add a professional blog if you have one)
- Your LinkedIn account
Remember to keep everything professional:
- Your email address should be in a simple format like email@example.com.
- Don’t use your current work email as it’s a bit disrespectful to your current employer to be receiving communications from other employers while you're working.
- Make sure all your contact information is consistent across your CV, cover letter and LinkedIn profile.
How to address your letter
Your first stumbling block in writing your cover letter can often be the dilemma of who to address your letter to.
There’s a lot of debate about this but we’d recommend making it as personal as you can and address it to the person who’ll be making the decision about whether to invite you to interview.
If you know or are able to find out this person’s name you should use it.
If the company has quite a relaxed and casual culture, you can probably use their first name or a combination of their first and last names e.g. ‘Dear Nicola’ or ‘Dear Nicola King’.
If the company has a very corporate image and culture, it’s probably best that you use their last name only e.g. ‘Dear Ms. King’.
If you’re struggling to find a name you can use a general greeting such as ‘Dear Hiring Manager’ or ‘Dear Sir/Madam’.
How to write your opening paragraph
A catchy opening paragraph is key to grabbing the hiring manager’s attention and ensuring that they read on.
You’ll need to mention what role you’re applying for and what your current role is, but you can choose how you want to present this.
Our advice would be that you make it clear from the get-go that this is a role and organisation you’re passionate about and that you’d be a great fit.
For example, ‘I am writing to apply for the position of [job title]. I am currently working as a [your job title] for [your company] and I believe that the skills and experience I have developed here, along with those gained from my academic background, are a brilliant match for the high standards needed by [company name]. I have long admired [company name]'s work on [example of their work] and I would be thrilled to be a part of making it happen.’
Follow up by showcasing your skills
The hiring manager needs to be able to quickly assess if you’re the right fit for the role, so you need to use your next paragraphs to demonstrate that you’re their perfect match.
You can do this by referring to the job description, reiteration the key requirements they’re looking for and showing them how you meet and exceed their expectations.
You can use bullet points to showcase a few of your key professional achievements. Make these sharp and snappy, using any figures you can to back up your claims. Just be sure that these are 100% accurate!
‘Increased sales leads from blog posts by 309% from the previous year during September 2019.’
Finish off with a strong closing paragraph
You’re almost at the finish line so it’s time for the perfect closing paragraph.
There’s no point in overdoing it here as you don’t want to repeat yourself. Simply reaffirm your interest and your passion for the position and express that you hope to hear from them soon.
‘Thank you for taking the time to consider my application. I look forward to hearing from you, and if there is any additional information you require, please do not hesitate to contact me.’
Sign off with the appropriate complimentary close
People can often get in a flap about how to sign off cover letters, but it doesn’t need to be over-complicated! Here’s our quick guide:
If you’ve used the hiring manager’s name in addressing your letter, sign off like this:
If you don’t know their name and have use Sir/Madam, sign off like this:
Looking for more advice? Check out our other career articles:
- 10 Tips for Writing a Successful CV
- Job Interview Techniques to Help You Get Hired
- How to Network at Events
- How to List an In-Progress Qualification on Your CV
Want to impress employers and take your career to the next level? Find out more about our online professional qualifications.