If you’re starting a job search in 2018, getting your cover letter right is just as important as perfecting your CV.
After hours spent crafting your CV, it can seem a little superfluous to transfer the information into letter format. However, your cover letter shouldn’t be a regurgitation of your CV. Instead, it should zoom in on a few key skills and experiences on your CV that the employer values the most. As a result, your cover letter should be bespoke for every application.
Some recruiters may receive hundreds of applications a day, so your cover letter gives you a chance to stand out from the crowd. With 57.1% of professionals ranking the cover letter as an essential application component, you can’t afford to leave it out.
We know that writing these letters can seem daunting at first, especially as it can feel like there’s a lot to remember. To help, we’ve put together a comprehensive guide to building your cover letter and tailoring it for each opportunity you apply to.
Download our cover letter template
Do your research
Research is a crucial part of many aspects of job hunting, and before you begin writing your cover letter, you need to make sure you’ve done your research properly.
The important things you should research before writing are:
- Who will be receiving and reading your letter
- The skills and experience mentioned in the job description
- The company and its culture
- Their competitors and market position
- The sector and any recent news or trends
- The organisation’s aims for 2018 and beyond
Building up a good knowledge of the company and industry helps you to tailor your cover letter for each company you apply to, and shows your passion for the job and sector.
The basic format
There’s a basic format for writing a cover letter that you can follow each time. However, every letter you write should be tailored to the specific job role or company you’re applying for.
Your cover letter should address the following:
- Which position interests you and why
- Your most relevant skills and experiences
- How your skills and experiences can benefit the employer
- Requesting an interview
Below is a basic break down of how you should structure your cover letter for 2018:
How to structure and write a cover letter
In 2018, it’s very rare for cover letters to be hard copies as most are sent online. However, traditional cover letter conventions state that your cover letter should be written like any other formal business letter, even if you’re emailing it.
Start with your address and contact details in the top right-hand corner. Make sure your contact details are sensible – email addresses like firstname.lastname@example.org won’t make you look very professional! You should then follow this with the address of the company you’re applying for and the date further down and on the left-hand side.
[Address Line 1]
[Address Line 2]
[Address Line 3]
[Company address line 1]
[Company address line 2]
Your opening paragraph should be short and sweet made up of three things: why you’re writing the letter, the position you’re applying for, how you found out about the position. For example: “I am writing to apply for the role of [job title], in response to an advert I saw on [name of job site]. Please find my CV attached.”
The second paragraph should be about you, expanding on your CV and giving a brief summary of any relevant skills or education you have. Remember, your cover letter shouldn’t be a copy of your CV; it should take your most notable achievements, explain a bit more about them, and then show how these skills could benefit the employer. Mirror the skills mentioned and the phrasing that’s used in the job description.
The third paragraph is your chance to show your knowledge of the company and the sector and go into detail about why you want to work for their company specifically. You should state how you can help the company and add to their success, as well as why you’ll fit in with the company culture and core values.
End your letter with a call to action. As you’re hoping to secure an interview, let them know your availability for a callback. If you plan to follow up with a phone call, say so! If you plan to wait for a response, close with “I look forward to hearing from you”. Thank them for taking the time to read your letter and sign off with:
Download our cover letter template
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Sending a cover letter online
With today’s technology, it’s common to send a cover letter – and a whole job application, for that matter – online or by email. This is especially common on job boards like CV-Library, and even with direct employers. If you need to send a cover letter online or via email, the approach you should take is a little different in terms of formatting.
If you just need to send your cover letter as an attachment, then write it as explained before. When it comes to saving it, make sure you use the .PDF file extension; any computer will be able to view the file, and all your formatting will be preserved.
Windows PCs use the .docx file extension for documents by default, whereas Macs use .pages. Avoid either of these, because there’s a chance that the employer won’t be able to open your cover letter. Stick with .PDF.
If you need to send your cover letter as the actual body text of your email, your approach will need to be slightly different. First, make sure you format the subject line of your email like so:
Application for [Job Title] – [Your Name]
If you were given a reference number, include that in the subject line as well. Once you’ve done that, it’s time to think about the layout of your letter. The paragraphs can be the same as a hard copy of your cover letter, but you can remove the addresses, date and signature.
If you’re applying for a job via a job board, you can sometimes afford to scale down your cover letter to key components. Check out this cover letter template for 2018:
I am interested in applying for the current vacancy you have for a [job title].
In my current role as [role title] with [company name], I am responsible for [insert relevant experience relating to job advert] but am currently looking to make a step up into a more challenging role with a reputable company who can offer career growth.
I am currently on a notice period of [notice period] and can interview immediately.
How long should my cover letter be?
Your cover letter should be no longer than a single A4 page. This can be tricky, especially since you want to impress the employer with all your skills and experience. But trust us; they simply won’t be interested in reading a 3,000-word essay. Even if they were, they probably just wouldn’t have the time! Keep it short, sweet, and simple.
Tailoring each cover letter
Each cover letter you write should be tailored specifically to the company and role you’re writing it for and should be detailed. Therefore you’ll want to avoid vague and generic phrases.
During the research stage, try to find the name of the hiring manager or whoever will be reading your letter. This way you can make the letter even more personal, and it will prove you’re a determined candidate who wants this job.
If you really can’t get hold of their name, you should instead start the letter with “Dear Sir or Madam” – but remember, if you don’t know their name, ensure you sign off your letter with “Yours faithfully” instead.
Read the job description so you can pick which of your skills or experiences to reference, and try to mirror some of the phrases they use in the job description. Illustrate your skills with examples to show why you’re the ideal candidate; as each company and role will be different, you’ll probably find that you’re using different examples on each letter.
Having done your research, you should also be able to talk specifically about the company in greater detail. Refer to their values or specific campaigns they have run that you enjoyed. This way they’ll know that you took the time to learn about their company and that you’re genuinely interested in them and the role.
When there’s no job advertised
If you haven’t seen an advertised position, but you’re contacting a company to find out if they currently have any vacancies, the format will be slightly different as you’ll be submitting a cold-contact cover letter.
You should address the letter formally as before, and try to get hold of the name of the hiring manager.
As you aren’t responding to a job ad, you should use your opening paragraph to explain why you’re writing to them and what it was that drew you to their company. If the reason for your application is a recommendation from someone, you know that already works there include their name.
You should also refer to the area of the company that you’d like to go into, for example, marketing or sales.
The body of the letter should remain relatively the same, highlighting your skills and experiences and giving detailed examples. Reiterate why you’re interested in their company specifically, talk about the sector and show that you’ve done your research.
In this instance, you should close the letter by thanking them for their time and expressing your interest in hearing from them with any available job vacancies that they may have.
Remember, each cover letter should be unique (even if you follow the basic format), and the aim is to make yourself stand out to recruiters. Follow these steps to writing your cover letter, and try to have fun with it!
In both your CV and your cover letter you should try to imagine yourself as a commodity and sell yourself to the company. There are several ways you can market yourself, and most of this will come from your research.
You need to demonstrate your knowledge of the company and the sector so that you can effectively explain why you’ll be beneficial to their company. As well as listing your skills and qualifications you could also demonstrate your interpersonal skills through talking about social activities and clubs.
All these aspects should help you build a case for why you’re going to add to the success of the company.
Top tips for success in 2018
Follow these cover letter tips for success to make sure you avoid making some fatal cover letter mistakes.
1. Keep it short
It may seem difficult with so much information to include, but you need to keep your cover letter short and sweet. Recruiters will give each letter about 20 to 30 seconds of their time, so it should be no more than an A4 page – they won’t trawl through ten pages, no matter how experienced and skilled you are.
2. Don’t just re-write your CV
The point of a cover letter is to expand upon your CV, not just re-write it—your CV should be attached to accompany your letter. Make sure you pick the most relevant examples and give details of your achievements.
3. Sign by hand
If you’re sending the letter in the post (old school, we know) then you should sign the letter by hand before you send it off—it adds a personal and more professional touch.
4. Sending online
Macs and PCs haven’t quite learnt to work in total harmony yet, and the last thing you want is the recruiter being unable to open your document. Instead, save your final CV as a pdf file; that way you know they’ll be able to open it on any device.
Once you’ve written your letter, check it over for mistakes and perhaps even have someone else read it over too. Recruiters aren’t going to take you seriously if you’ve made silly spelling or grammar mistakes.
6. Avoid clichés
Each letter should be personal, so avoid clichéd phrases that recruiters have read a thousand times! Don’t just say “I’m a team player”, these buzzwords and phrases won’t make you stand out. Instead, choose an example of when you worked well in a team and explain what happened and what you achieved.
7. Use numbers
If you can, use numbers or stats to illustrate your points as it’s a nice way to quantify your results and adds to the format of the letter.
8. Be creative
Writing cover letters doesn’t have to be boring; you can be a bit creative in your approach – especially if you’re going into a creative industry or job role. Play around with layouts and formats; as long as all the important information is in there and the layout isn’t distracting, have fun with it!
9. Use bullet points
This is not always necessary, but depending on the format you’ve chosen or the job role you’re applying for, bullet points could be an effective way of demonstrating your points and adding to the layout.
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Posted on: July 18, 2017
A well-written cover letter can make a difference between your CV being read and it being thrown into the bin.
When applying for jobs, some applicants tend to throw their CVs in the general direction of a recruiter, and hope for the best. They haven’t included a cover letter with the application, and that could be costing them opportunities.
What’s a cover letter and why’s it so important?
A well-written cover letter can be the difference between getting an interview and being filtered out at the start. It’s your opportunity to take all the skills and accomplishments you’d find in a good CV, summarise it, and send a direct message to the recruiter about why you deserve the job ahead of the candidates that make up the rest of the pack. In essence, it’s a focused sales pitch.
Do the research
Before sitting down to write a cover letter, do some research on the company and the role you’re applying for. This is good preparation for a possible interview, but it’s also valuable for you to understand whether this role is a good fit.
Doing this research will help you personalise your cover letter and allow you to write something unique and powerful. It’ll allow you avoid something too generic and templated, again with the aim of creating a letter which hits home, using the style and terminology that will be suitable for the recruiter you’re applying for. You also need to write content which can grab the attention of a recruiter in a few seconds.
Researching the company will also help you with writing a cover letter. For instance, if you’re applying for a job opening, the cover letter you write will be tailored for the role you’re going for. If you’re prospecting a company with inquiries about possible positions, the nature of what you write will obviously be different.
Image: Adpbe Stock
How to start a cover letter?
If you want to personalise your cover letter, it will help to address it to the right person. Sometimes that’s easy, as some job advertisements will have a contact name on the advert. Other times that won’t be the case. If it’s the latter, it won’t hurt addressing the cover letter to the manager of the specific department you’re applying for. You might get extra brownie points for tracking down the name of relevant person in the company.
What to include in a cover letter
- The first paragraph – Make an impact
This is extremely key, as in a cover letter you need to make an impact and give the recruiter a reason to read on. If you’re applying to an advertised listing, it would be good to mention the job advert. If you’re fortunate to have a referral for this job from a contact, make sure you include it, as that could make a big difference.
Here are some examples of good opening paragraphs.
I was pleased to hear from Jeremy Green that you will soon have a vacancy for a Marketing Assistant. I am very interested in this position, and with my skills I could be an asset to your company.
Having recently read in The Times of your company’s plans for expansion, I am writing to establish whether this will involve an increase in personnel. As a final year business student at Durham University, I am seeking a position in January that will develop my marketing and finance skills.
I am writing to apply for the Photographic Assistant position advertised in the November 1 listing of Car Magazine.
- The second paragraph – Why should they choose you?
This is where you should write a strong statement about why the employer should choose you, describing the most relevant skills and experiences related to the job you’re applying for. Your research will help determine what you include, as you match the skills you put down in the job description. If you’re prospecting rather than going for an individual job, think about the skills you believe will be most important to the company.
Here are examples of good second paragraphs
I could be a great fit for your business. I recently finished a Marketing degree at the University of London, which means I have a great grounding in the skills needed for this role, as well as relevant work experience at numerous companies.
Through my degree, I have built up a good knowledge of skills needed to thrive in a company such as yours – for example, business law, digital business, corporate finance and employment law. I’ve also had work experience at high-profile financial institutions.
I recently finished a Photography degree at South Bank University, where I developed business skills and increased my technical knowledge. I have also had work experience at numerous photography publications.
- The third paragraph – How can it work for both of you?
Your research is important here. If you’ve analysed the job description properly, you should be able to write a section where you can emphasise what you can do for the company, rather than vice versa. It might help to outline a relevant career goal and to incorporate your research. You can also expand on the most relevant parts of your CV.
I’ve spoken to Jeremy, and I understand that you’re looking for a graduate with high technical skill and strong potential to grow as a digital marketer. I fit that profile, and have the confidence to grow and contribute to your business.
Your company has recently called for graduates to apply who have similar skillsets to mine, but with the hunger to achieve their short and long-term goals at a fast-growing company. I can make a positive impact at your business, and be part of the great culture you’ve developed.
At South Bank, I developed all the technical and business skills required for the position. Your company offers the potential for me to develop a long-term career in automotive photography, and I’m confident that I can contribute to the continued success of your publication.
Image: Adobe Stock
What not to include in your cover letter
Be careful to keep the cover letter concise and snappy. The purpose isn’t to tell your life story or repeat what you’re going to say at interview. Keep your letter focused and just a few paragraphs in length – it’s there to convey enough information to get that job interview. Also, if you go into too much detail, there’s a risk of the recruiter getting bored or worst still, not even bothering to start reading.
Watch the language! Avoid cliché and catchphrases, and make sure the you don’t use the word ‘I’ too much – you need to write for the reader, and they’ll want to know that you’ve thought about them in depth. Don’t use abbreviations, unless you clearly explain what they mean. And incorporate industry terms relevant to the company you’re applying for, but only if you genuinely understand what they mean.
How to end a cover letter
Concluding the letter, you might decide to make a final statement that you’re available to meet with the employer at their convenience, or better still, say you’ll follow up on a specific day. If the job description specifically asks you to include salary details, put those in, but if not leave them out – that should be up for discussion at a later stage, such as the interview. You should put contact details in, and consider adding links to work social profiles or personal websites you’re happy to share.
Thank you for considering my application. I will contact you next week to follow up on my application and arrange for an interview – in the meantime, call me on my phone number at xxxxxxxxxxx or email me at xxxx@xxxx. You can also see examples of my work at xxxx.com.
In terms of salary, I’m looking at a figure between £xxxxx and £xxxxx.
Edit and proofread your cover letter
From a recruiter’s viewpoint, typos and mistakes in a cover letter can be a sign that the candidate doesn’t take due care with what they create – so don’t do it! Make sure you edit and proofread your cover letter thoroughly. If necessary, get someone else to do it. The editor of your cover letter can imagine themselves as a recruiter, providing insight you won’t necessarily get reading it by yourself.
Important points to note
- Avoid sounding pompous or using clichés and catch phrases, there are some statements that are used all the time such as ‘I have excellent interpersonal skills’, you want your letter to be unique.
- Try to avoid using ‘I’ too much. A page of I did this and I did that is not appealing – it says to the employer that you haven’t thought about them.
- Do not use abbreviations.
- Do not exceed four paragraphs of content.
- To satisfy the skim reader, incorporate some industry sound bites and buzzwords.
- Subtly flatter the company, for example ‘you are the industry leader’
- Check and then recheck your spelling, grammar and punctuation. Get someone else to read it through also.
- If you are making a speculative application you should follow up the letter with a phone call, e-mail or office visit.
- Paper clip your covering letter to your CV, one should never be sent out without the other.
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by mdinnen in Cover Letter Templates, CVs, Applications & Cover Letters