How to write a successful cover letter

You’ve seen a role that sounds like your dream job, and you know you have the skills and experience that the company is looking for. But before you start planning for an interview, you first need to make it through the document screening stage.

A hiring manager will form early impressions about you based on your cover letter, and even the envelope that contains your job application materials.

This highlights the need to take care in preparing these written documents. If you fail to create the impression of a skilled professional, the hiring manager may lose interest in reading your resume and career history. This can mean that you won’t be called in for an interview.

Here are some key guidelines to follow that can help you stand out from other candidates, and increase the likelihood of being invited to attend an interview.

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Prepare a separate cover letter for each application

One of the golden rules of applying for a new job is to carefully tailor each cover letter to the individual roles you are applying for.

No two positions are identical, and hiring managers have varying expectations in terms of the ideal candidate’s skills, experience and career background. It’s up to you to demonstrate that you meet the specific requirements.

Using the same cover letter for different companies can damage your chances of progressing to an interview. A hiring manager can often pick a generic cover letter. More importantly, a standard cover letter won’t let you address the unique requirements of the individual role.

Take the time to write different cover letters for each role you’re applying for. Refer back to the job post, and address the main skills/experience the employer is looking for. If you can briefly mention these in your cover letter, it’s more likely that the hiring manager will read your resume with interest, and potentially ask you in for an interview.

State a compelling case for why you should progress to interview

Your cover letter should state why you want to work for the company – and the value you bring to the organisation.

Explain, for example, that you want to be part of a growth business, and that you have the industry experience to help the company navigate growth. Summarise examples of how you have added value in your previous/current positions. It all helps to build a convincing case that you are right for the job.

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Proofread your documents thoroughly

Nothing makes a job application look more sloppy and unprofessional than spelling mistakes or grammatical errors. One of the advantages of drafting your cover letter using a computer is that spelling can be checked at the click of a mouse, so spell check every document. Refer back to the job posting to be sure that the names of the hiring manager and company are spelled correctly.

After preparing the first draft, your cover letter and other documents including the envelope, should be printed (rather than handwritten), and held aside for a while. This lets you come back to what you have written with a fresh outlook, and it can be easier to spot errors or find a better way to express yourself.

Make sure you have included all the information

Before forwarding your cover letter and resume to the company, take a careful look through the job post to tick off everything that the hiring manager has requested. It’s very easy to make a simple oversight particularly if you are applying for multiple positions, but missing key pieces of information can cost you an interview.

A job post can, for instance, ask for additional information beyond your resume. You may be asked to supply evidence of your university degree, professional certifications, or membership to industry bodies. If that’s the case, check that you have attached the necessary documents to your job application.

How to write an effective cover letter

As your first point of contact with an employer, your cover letter is your opportunity to demonstrate that you are a skilled professional who is the best candidate for the role – and the company.

Read our experts tips on how to write an impressive cover letter.

Should a cover letter be handwritten?

Your handwriting can say a lot about you, but in today’s digital world, most employers want to be able to receive, store and read your cover letter in digital format.

Learn when you should – and shouldn’t – handwrite a cover letter.

How to prepare your resume envelope

Your job application envelope is absolutely the first thing a hiring manager will see. Use this to your advantage by setting out your envelope in a way that creates the impression of being organised and professional.

Discover the appropriate layout of your job application envelope.