11 January 2019
Still looking for a job that really fulfils you? There’s no time like the present to take action. The first step to getting a foot in the door, learning how to write a winning cover letter is essential if you want to beat the other job-shoppers.
It might sound like an odd claim, but we firmly believe that writing a cover letter should be fun. “What’s that?” we hear you say. “Fun?!” Yes, you heard us right! It’s a chance to express your passion for your chosen career path and showcase your individuality. Learning to write a stellar cover letter is a skill anyone can master. All it takes is a little invention and insider knowledge.
On that note, here are our expert recruiter’s top tips on how to write a first-class cover letter:
Really read the job description
Before you start, make sure you’re 100% clear on how you match what they’re looking for. You’re giving them concrete evidence you can do what they need. Moreover, you’re showing them you’re the sort of person they’ll get along with.
In terms of language, try and match the tone of the job advert. If it’s highly formal, keep your tone professional. If it’s a “fun and friendly” ad, you can relax a little. You want to demonstrate how good a fit you’d be for their team, not just through what you say, but how you say it, too.
Be sharp and specific
Your job is your target and you want to make sure that your aim is on point. Avoid clichés such as “my skill set would make me an ideal candidate for this position”. Be confident in yourself! Don’t be afraid to sell your skills. For example, if you’re a copywriter, instead of saying “I have excellent written communication skills” say “in my last role, my innovative and engaging copy lead to a 30% decrease in our website's bounce rate”. Where possible, give concrete, quantifiable evidence of your achievements.
Get the little details right
Now you’ve convinced your addressee not to cast your application aside, you just need to make sure you’ve got the nuts and bolts down.
From the top: list your name, contact details and the date.
At the beginning of the letter itself: address your Hiring Manager by name if possible. Do some research on Linkedin and the company’s “About Us” pages to see if you can find them. Trust us – you’ll gain extra points for making the effort. If it’s a woman, start with “Ms” rather than assuming their marital status.
If you were referred by a current employee, mention this in the subject line of your email.
Throughout the letter: use a sensible font and size – we suggest 11-12 point font size in Arial or Calibri. Where possible, use a PDF.
Of course, if you’re applying for a design-based or more creative role, the rules will be different.
Structure in 3 key steps
Your cover letter should be no more than 1 page, maximum. You might feel like this is no obstacle when you’re staring at a blank document, but it can be harder than it sounds. Once you’ve got going, it can be tricky to condense your thoughts without compromising on quality. However, between 4 and 5 paragraphs should be more than enough to fit in an introduction, a conclusion and 2-3 reasons they should hire you. Not sure how to fill them? Here are a few pointers from our expert team…
1. The introduction: pull them in!
Dig deep and make your introductory sentence as original as possible. Focus on what you can offer the team, not why this role would benefit you. For example, “After learning about your Social Media Manager vacancy, I am confident that with my skills and experience, I will be able to make a significant contribution to your marketing department.”
2. The main body: how I can help…
In order of relevance to the role, list the top 2-3 reasons they should choose you. Focus on what you can do for them, not why this role should benefit you. Resist the temptation to write a mini-autobiography. Every point you state should be directly relevant to the job description.
Start each reason they should hire you with a strong claim, back it up with evidence and then wrap it up into an easily digestible mini-conclusion. E.g. “I have spent the past 3 years developing my social media marketing expertise. As Marketing Coordinator at my previous company, I increased our following on Facebook, Instagram and Linkedin by over 200%. I am confident that I will be able to bring the same growth to your business’ online social media presence.”
In addition to evidence of your skill set, you should also state how your individual personality and passions are in line with the company. What is it about the business’ mission that inspires you? What traits do you have that would make you an ideal fit for their team? Have a look on their social media channels, or their website’s “About Us” page for inspiration. Try to make it as authentic as possible. For example, if you’re applying to work as a receptionist at your local council offices, instead of saying “I am passionate about helping others” you could say “As a long-term resident of the area, I am passionate about helping the local community run smoothly.” However you phrase it, make it seem as if your personality and goals fully align with theirs.
3. The conclusion: it’s a wrap
Last impressions – they’re almost as important as the first! Your closing sentence is a great chance to seal the deal with your addressee. Use it to make a lasting impact. Ideally, you should sign off with a sentence that reminds them of your enthusiasm and the potential value you could bring to their company. For example, you could say “I am very eager to learn more about this role and share how I can contribute to [the name of the business]’s [department you are applying for].” or “I am fascinated by [company name’s] innovative approach to [their product/service]. I believe that with my combination of [your field of work] experience and [your area of expertise] skills, I would make a great contribution to your [company’s mission]. I look forward to discussing this further at interview stage”.
To sign off, steer away from overly-familiar terms such as “yours truly” and “warm regards”. Instead, use “yours sincerely”.
Proofread, proofread, proofread!
Now you’ve polished off your structure and perfected the finishing touches, it’s time for a welcome break. Whatever you do, do not send your application right now. Take a timeout, make a cup of tea and switch off for at least an hour. This will give your brain time to get out of writing mode. Then, come back to your cover letter with a fresh outlook and give it one final proofread. If you can, print it off and go over it with a pen, as if you were a teacher marking a student’s work. This will help you spot any lingering errors. Now you’re cover letter is typo-free, you’re good to go!
Above all, a cover letter is a great chance to remind yourself why you’re choosing to take the plunge into a new job. Drill down into the most pertinent reasons why you want to work in this role, at this company and why you’re the perfect person for the job. If you’re confident in your abilities, your reader will be too.
Follow these tips and your chances of scoring that all-important interview will skyrocket. If you need some expert advice on how to ace the next stage, check out our recruiter’s 5 essential interview tips.