A well-written cover letter is one of the most important tools you have to convince your employer that you are the right person for the job. When crafted carefully, a cover letter will demonstrate how your skills and expertise can add value to the company you want to work for.
Cover letter writing
Writing a cover letter is a task that requires research, consideration and personalisation. If you nail the cover letter, you’ll be well on your way to landing the job you’ve dreamed of. But a poorly written cover letter - even if you are the perfect candidate for the job - will see your resume go straight to the bottom of the pile.
We’ve created the ultimate guide to crafting the perfect cover letter. Whether you’re looking to understand what a cover letter is, or for tips on how to write a persuasive cover letter - we can help you get your application to the top of the pile.
What is a cover letter?
A resume cover letter is a letter to the hiring manager that accompanies the resume. These days, most resumes are emailed or submitted electronically, and the cover letter will either be the first page of the document or included as an accompanying attachment.
The purpose of a cover letter is to give a preview, or a sneak-peak, into what your resume will contain. It links your resume to the role that you are applying for and persuades the hiring manager that your application is worth the time to read.
A cover letter is often over-looked, or approached as an after-thought. After all, you’ve spent hours perfecting your resume – surely the resume is the most important element? Wrong. The cover letter is usually the first thing an employer will see, before they begin to read your resume. Therefore, it’s critical that you invest the time to get your resume cover letter right.
Is a cover letter mandatory?
Imagine your resume is a book: the story of your career. You’ve laboured over the manuscript and hope that it will be published one day. The cover letter is the letter to the publisher, convincing them why they should read your manuscript. It’s the opportunity for you to make a connection and to convince them that your book – or the story of your career – is worth reading.
Some employers specifically request a cover letter. If they do, then you can be confident that they will read it. A cover letter is not always mandatory – however, even if employers don’t specify that a cover letter is required, you should still invest the time to write one. It demonstrates your enthusiasm for the job and shows that you have taken the time to consider the particular role’s requirements and how you can add value to their business.
Cover letter strategy
When it comes to writing a cover letter for resumes, remember the three C’s: Connect, Convince and Courtesy.
The purpose of the resume cover letter is to first Connect with your hiring manager. Then you should aim to Convince the hiring manager that your resume is worth reading.
Whilst including a cover letter may seem old-fashioned, such Courtesies are highly valued in the professional world, and a professional cover letter will thank the hiring manager for their time in reading your resume and considering you for the role.
What information should you include in your cover letter?
Your cover letter should always include your contact details, and should follow a clear structure, to convince the hiring manager that your resume is the one they should read.
Ensure your cover letter adheres to a formal letter format. This includes addressing the reader by name (if you know it); for example, ‘Dear Stephanie’; or if you don’t know the name, ‘To whom it may concern’. You should also sign your cover letter with a formal ‘Yours sincerely’.
How long should a cover letter be?
The purpose of a cover letter is to sell your skills and ability to the hiring manager - think of it as your one chance to catch their eye to read your resume.
A good cover letter should be succinct. Keep your cover letter to four paragraphs that fit on one page in total.
If your cover letter is any longer, it will only demonstrate to the employer you lack focus.
How to personalise your cover letter
In writing a cover letter, remember that it should never be generic – it should be personalised and tailored to the job and company that you are applying for.
Have attention to detail. Scrutinise the job advertisement and ensure the details are exactly mirrored in your resume. For example, if job applications are to be sent to ‘Stephanie Green, HR Manager’, ensure that Stephanie’s name and title are on your cover letter and the spelling is correct. If the job title that you are applying for is ‘Administration Assistant’, ensure that you don’t write ‘Administration Coordinator’.
Reference relevant skills and experience. If you’ve done your research, you will know exactly what kind of skills and experience the hiring manager is looking for. For example, if the advertisement mentions that they are looking for a project manager who is ‘excellent at stakeholder engagement’, you could say; “As a project manager with 8 years’ experience, I am known for my ability to influence and engage key stakeholders to achieve business goals.”
Reference the company. In your research, you may have identified what the company goals or values are. Ensure that you reference those goals and values when writing a cover letter, and articulate how they reflect your own goals and values.
How to create the perfect cover letter layout
Learning how to write a cover letter can be time-consuming, but once you have practiced it, it will become second nature.
Investing the time to tailor and personalise the cover letter will always stand you in good stead, and help your cover letter – and resume – stand out from the crowd.
Cover letter pros and cons
When deciding whether or not to use a cover letter template, there are some pros and cons to consider.
- Cover letter examples can save you time, as there will be a standard structure that you can follow. You won't have to spend time thinking about what you should include, as there will be clear prompts to guide you.
- Cover letter templates and examples can also give you inspiration in terms of the key messages that you should include, and the type of language you should use. They also give you tips on correct formatting, and the types of formalities that you can incorporate.
- The purpose of a cover letter is to convince the hiring manager that your unique resume is worth reading. That means that your cover letter needs to be unique, personalised and tailored. If you use a template or an existing example, there is a chance your cover letter could be perceived as being generic, and you won’t be as convincing as you need to be.
- If you use a cover letter template that you have downloaded from the internet, there is a chance that someone else might have used the same template. It is hard to stand out if your cover letter looks exactly the same as someone else’s.