How to write an effective cover letter

Your cover is a critical document that can help to set you apart from other candidates. Hiring managers can find themselves overwhelmed with dozens of applications, potentially many more. And faced with what can be a lengthy screening process, employers will naturally use a cover letter as a first port of call in the screening process.

Standing out from the crowd calls for an investment of your time. But the reward for taking extra care with your cover letter is that you create a positive first impression, and encourage the hiring manager to take a good look at your resume.

Employers typically want to see a number of factors addressed in a cover letter. If you can tick all these boxes, you’re more likely to be in the running to progress to the interview stage.

1. Make sure the basic details are correct

It may seem hard to believe but some job applicants can get the most important details of a cover letter wrong.

Misspelling the company name (or worse, getting it wrong altogether), or spelling the hiring manager’s name incorrectly are likely to send your application to the bottom of an employer’s list.

The job posting has all the details you need to be confident you have all the basics correct. Cross-check your cover letter against the job post to be completely sure that all the names, titles and addresses match what appears in the post.

This simple starting point shows that you are organised, have an eye for detail, and reinforces that you are genuinely interested in the role.

2. Tailor your cover letter to the specific company and role

Few things can see your job application hit the ‘out’ pile quicker than a generic cover letter that fails to address the key requirements noted in the job post.

Yes, it takes time to tailor each cover letter to the individual roles that you are applying for. But when it comes to cover letters, one size does not fit all.

If, for example, the job post specifies experience with cloud-based computing, it makes sense to briefly mention your skills and experience with cloud technologies in your cover letter. These details can be further developed in your resume, but an early note will allow the hiring manager to see that you meet all the essential requirements, and that your resume is worth a look.

3. Give your cover letter a clear structure

In a time-poor workplace it makes sense to set out your cover letter in a logical order. This makes it easier for the hiring manager to quickly review your details and check your skills and experience.

Adopting the 4-part layout noted below can make it easier for an employer to assess that you are suitable for the role. It also helps you demonstrate a professional and orderly approach.

  • Paragraph 1: Explain why you are contacting the hiring manager (for example, you wish to apply for the role of Senior Accountant), and why you are interested in the role.
  • Paragraph 2: Convince the hiring manager that your skills and experience are right for the role by briefly referring to at least three specific skills or experience noted in the job description.
  • Paragraph 3: Add value. Identify how you can add value to the company through any additional skills or experience, or personal attributes such as leadership.
  • Paragraph 4: Explain when you are available for an interview. Be specific about times or days, particularly if your current role involves travel or if it’s hard for you to leave the office at short notice.

4. Maintain a professional tone

Your cover letter is not the place for buzzwords or flowery language describing how much you want the role.

Almost all positions call for strong communication skills, and the hiring manager will view your cover letter as evidence of your written communication skills. So keep your words professional and succinct.

5. Check for spelling and grammar

Carefully proofread what you have written – looking for any possible errors. Even better, show it to a friend or family member, who will read your cover letter with fresh eyes. They may pick up mistakes you’ve missed or suggest a better way of describing your skills and experience.

Always spell check your cover letter before saving a final version.

There’s a lot riding on your cover letter, and by investing time to make sure you have it right, you’re more likely to be rewarded with an interview.

Cover letter template

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