Writing a brilliant cover letter
Of all the parts of your standard job application, the cover letter is one of the least appreciated. While some recruiters and employers will tell you that ‘nobody reads cover letters any more’, it’s well worth the effort to make one that stands out. Cover letters are as widely expected as they ever were.
With a cover letter, you have the chance to make a great impression on a future employer and allow your personal touch to come through; the question of whether you are accepted for a particular role or not could hinge upon whether you thought to include one or not.
Your cover letter’s aim is to provide a more complete answer to the question “Why should I hire you?” that the CV does by itself. As such, it should be professionally written and presented, and written specially for the application in question. It also serves a more practical purpose namely, that of identifying the role that you are applying for, which is essential when applying by email or post rather than through a job board.
If this sounds like a lot of work – well, it can be difficult to write your first letter, but once you have that, you can build on the same outline and future letters will be much quicker to write.
This step-by-step guide will help you find the right words to put on paper to score the job you want. Be sure check the example further down for more detail.
Octo Tip: Don’t let your fear of bragging stand in the way of writing a fantastic letter! If you find it hard to write about how great you are, try writing in the third person initially as if you were a colleague recommending you (and then switch back to first person before sending!)
Important information about your cover letter:
• Remember your letter writing lessons from school? Your address should go in the top right hand corner of the page – your recipient’s below it aligned to the left. If you’re writing an email obviously this doesn’t apply!
• Address the letter by name. You can try to find out the relevant manager’s name using LinkedIn, but if that fails, you could always ring up the company and ask who handles recruitment. Otherwise, start with “Dear Sir/Madam.”
• In your first paragraph, explain briefly which role you are applying for. Also mention where you found out about the role – employers like to know which their best outlets for advertising are.
• Outline why you’re interested in this job and this company or organisation. This section will be quite personal and probably will be the paragraph that differs most
between letters, even for very similar roles.
• Highlight your skills and experience that match those described in the ad. This paragraph is a little more in depth but you can borrow from your CV, pulling out the
most relevant parts.
• Finally, mention any practical concerns such as your notice period, dates when you are not available for interview or other allowances that might need to be made.
• Thank the reader for their time and sign off appropriately.
Do’s and don’ts:
• DO Answer the question “why should I be given this job”
• DO Explain how getting the job can benefit the company, rather than just yourself.
• DON’T Make demands relating to salary, hours or the amount of leave you want.
• DON’T Put pen to paper unless your handwriting is perfect. Type it.
Octo Tip: When it comes to addressing person in charge of recruitment, a more casual startup might prefer first names to full names, so if you’re confident that the culture is suitably laid back, you might consider dispensing with “Mr.” and “Mrs.” and just using the first
Example Covering Letter
Octo Tip: It should go without saying but do make sure your grammar and spelling are flawless. Managers put a lot of stock in presentation and attention to detail.
Covering letter struture
1. Your address goes in the top right of the letter, with the date below...
2.…and the recipient’s address goes here. Do find a name if you can, but if not, use a job title. If you really can’t find any contact information, don’t include a name.
3. Use “Dear Sir/Madam” if no name is available. Do not use a first name.
4. Outline your reason for writing upfront. People often start with “I am writing to apply…” but this could be seen as a little cliché.
5. Explain why you should be picked for the job based on qualities such as your passion for the company and industry. As employers are impressed by research and by evidence that you’ve written them a letter from scratch, it’s a good idea to be specific in saying what it is that draws you to the company.
6. Here you can write more about your achievements, experiences and qualifications.
7. Place any practical notes or drawbacks that the employer should know about at the end.
8. Sign off – write “yours sincerely” if you used a name or “yours faithfully” if you didn’t. You can use “best regards” or similar in an email.
9. Your full name.
Octo Tip: If you spend hours on a cover letter, you’re probably doing it wrong – it’s tempting to overthink the whole issue but this will often end up as a waste of time.
Depending on the position and your specific roster of skills and experience, you could go much further with your cover letter. You can go into much more detail about your specific achievements, with facts and figures to back them up, if you want to really sell yourself in a great role.
Or if you do your research into a company, you can even (politely) suggest to them improvements on their strategy, or ways to solve a specific problem they may be facing. Don’t be too cocky here however – after all, you don’t know the whole situation and you could come across as presumptuous. As brilliant as your letter has the potential to be, you should strive to keep it under a page of A4 in length.
Given how many jobseekers don’t even bother to include a cover letter – at least, not a personalised one – putting in those extra few minutes with an application can really help yours stand out. And that’s in addition to giving the extra context and information that doesn’t generally get included in a CV.