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How to Write a Cover Letter

This article tells you how to write a cover letter that will attract the attention of both employers and recruitment agencies and make them want to interview you. You will learn about what you should include and what you should leave out, whether you are applying by post or online. For more specific advice on online applications, you may also want to see: How to Write a Covering Letter for Online Job Applications

You should not view writing a cover letter as a problem. While it requires some time and concentration, writing a formal application letter will leave you fully equipped to write effective email letters as well. Whether posted or emailed, a cover letter is a great opportunity to quickly draw the employer's attention to your application, helping you to stand out amongst a large field of candidates.

In this article, we look at the fundamentals of how to write a cover letter for both postal and email applications.

The Reasons for Writing a Cover Letter

If your CV were a film, what would the trailer be like? You would expect highlights, interesting bits of the plot and scenes, quotes and facts about the actors (Oscar nominee!) that would entice you to go and see it.

In a similar way, your cover letter's job is to introduce you and encourage the recruiter or employer to give your application a closer look. It must give a taste of what is to come, by offering some highlights of your CV and connecting them with the advertised vacancy in question.

Importantly, when it comes to how to write a cover letter, it must start to establish a rapport with the recruiter by giving them an idea of your personality as an employee. You can convey something that is hard to feature in your CV - a real sense of your commitment and motivation in relation to their organisation and the role.

Your cover letter must draw attention to your key selling points, such as your skills, strengths and work history. It must not duplicate a CV, but must engage the employer to read further by grabbing their attention. It adds colour and personality to your application.

You must also show that you are business-like and an effective communicator, which should create the expectation that you are just as professional when you meet the employer face-to-face.

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How Good a Match Are You?

Above all, your cover letter needs to focus on your strengths and attributes. This does not mean simply repeating chunks of your CV, but in offering information about your strengths, with evidence to back your claims up. Before starting, can you say for sure what your attributes are?

At the start of your job search, when you are thinking about how to write a cover letter, you need to sit down and write out a list of your experience areas, abilities and skills, personal qualities and goals. If you have not done so already, then do this before writing a cover letter. List these points in order according to your biggest strength, best ability, etc.

Next, you need to focus on the job you are looking for. Identify the requirements for this kind of job - list the key experience areas, skills and knowledge that employers are looking for.

Put these in order of importance according to which are most sought by employers. Is there a good match between this and your self-evaluation list? If the key employer requirements are also high on your list, then you need to emphasise these in your cover letter.

It is important to back these points up with an example achievement or two. You will already have these listed on your CV, but in the cover letter you need to express them differently.

Do not simply copy the text from your CV, but prepare to write a more colourful, compelling version in the context of your letter. You can afford to be more descriptive in the letter, so select an achievement or two with this in mind.

If you are applying for a very specific vacancy, then when you think about how to write a cover letter, you should consider writing down exactly what attracts you most about the vacancy. Your cover letter must convey all your commitment and motivation.

How to Write a Cover Letter and Win Interviews

When you are applying for a job online, you need to produce a separate CV and cover letter that is aimed specifically at the vacancy you are applying for. Below you will find our 5 key tips on how to write a cover letter that will win an employer's attention and encourage them to interview you for a job vacancy.

1. Title

Address your cover letter to someone by name. For example, if there is a named contact in the job advert, begin your letter: 'Dear [name]'. If there isn't a name listed then, start your letter 'Dear Sir or Madam' or better still ring up and find out who your cover letter should be addressed to.

2. Subject Line

Before starting the main letter itself, include a subheading. This is a reference line and should contain the job reference number and the job title - e.g. Ref: 1024 - Marketing Manager.

3. First Paragraph

You need to get straight to the point at the start of the letter. Here is where you give a quick overview of your suitability for the job that you are applying for - this is a little like the profile at the top of your CV.

First, you need to express the main reason for your being a strong candidate for the vacancy. You need to create an impact immediately, so focus on the strongest areas of your experience, knowledge and skills. Use powerful adjectives - there is no point in being modest, but at the same time do not risk sounding boastful by going over the top.

Can you express your commitment to the advertised role and explain why? You need to leave the recruiter in no doubt that you are highly motivated and extremely interested in the organisation's goals by including a sentence that expresses your career aims and personal drive in attaining them.

4. Second and Third Paragraphs

Now that you have hopefully captured the recruiter's attention, it is time to focus more on the job itself. This is where you bring in your research, so that you can go into more detail matching your qualities to the vacancy's person specifications and job description.

You do not need to write a film script, but instead you can lift two or three key achievements from your CV to illustrate your ability to meet the employer's requirements. What is important here is to focus on the employer or recruiter's needs, not your own desires or wishes.

So, mention the top three or four employer requirements and then state your related experience or abilities. Back these up by including the achievements. Do not just copy them from your CV, but rewrite them in more descriptive, flowing language. You need to think about how to write a cover letter that will make an employer take notice of you.

5. Close and Sign Off

At the end of your letter, state that you are available for interview and that you look forward to hearing from them. To be honest, this sentence is a little superfluous, but it is a polite way to close your communication.

If you are writing to a named contact, sign the letter 'Yours sincerely'. If you are writing a letter to an unnamed professional, sign off with 'Yours faithfully'.

Leave a space of a few lines and then type your name. If your cover letter is to be printed out, you can add your signature in the space.

Your Cover Letter's Format and Style

Ideally, your cover letter should fit onto one side of paper. A long letter will not necessarily be read, so if you cannot capture the employer's attention in the first two or three paragraphs, you are not going to secure it by the end.

Your name and contact details should appear in the header of the letter. The best way to present this is to use the same header as in your CV, along with the same overall appearance. You should lay out the contact person's address details formally at the top, along with the date of writing.

No matter what fonts you normally use in your word processing program, your cover letter should have a traditional look. This means using Arial, Helvetica or Times New Roman, in 10pt to 12pt. Line spacing should be at least 12pt, with space between paragraphs and generous margins. It's not normally recommended to use coloured text or graphics.

An employer might use scanning software on your cover letter. To cater for this possibility, as well as to sound knowledgeable about the industry or profession, you should look at including industry buzzwords and keywords. Their inclusion, if not done in too obvious or clumsy a fashion, can only help to strengthen the cover letter.

Your writing style should always be professional. You can afford to be friendly, but without going too far (i.e. do not be too familiar). Always remain courteous and warm.

If you need to improve your CV / cover letter, then our CV writing service can produce a first-class CV / cover letter that will create the interest you desire from employers and make them take notice of your application.

How to Write a Cover Letter Action Plan

The action plan below aims to show you how to write a cover letter that will help you produce a letter that attracts an employer's interest and encourages them to want to interview you:

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