What to include in a cover letter?
If you’re wondering how to write a cover letter, first thing to know is that a cover letter must showcase your abilities, experience and skills in a way it convinces the hiring manager you are the #1 candidate for a role.
To write a cover letter, make sure you:
- Make sure you address the right person
- Point out why you are the right candidate
- Showcase your experience and skills
- Reiterate your desire to work in the role
A well written cover letter should entice the recruiter to read your CV and it is a good way for you to address any questions that may be raised by your CV, for example a change of career or a career gap. If you haven’t written one before, never fear; below, we offer a detailed guide on crafting a cover letter that should greatly increase your chances of landing a job. Check out also our Cover Letter Sample if you need more guidance.
How do you structure a cover letter?
How To Start
It is important to note that your details should be on the right hand side of the page. Once you have done that, begin the letter by clearly stating you are looking for a job.
It is essential that you perform some research and get the name of the company’s hiring manager(s). Failure to personalise the letter will almost certainly lead to rejection so don’t you dare begin with ‘Dear Sir/Madam’!
Get inspired by our How to start a cover letter article.
Opening Paragraph – Explaining Yourself
Typically, you should be aiming for 3-4 paragraphs and hopefully, your letter will fit on a single sheet of A4 paper. Given the brevity of your cover letter, it’s crucial that you get straight to business.
The fact that you have sent the letter and CV to the company’s hiring manager means he already knows you are applying for the job so don’t waste space by reiterating this point. Instead, you should look to immediately point out why you are the right candidate for the company.
This will instantly attract the attention of the reader and, assuming your letter is well written, it should save it from the bin which is the unfortunate fate of the vast majority of cover letters and CVs.
The Middle Paragraphs – Showcase your skills
Depending on what you intend to say, this section can be one or two paragraphs. If you can fit it and the content is relevant, try and make it two sections. If the hiring manager has got this far, he’s likely to be interested in learning more about you. Therefore, your objective is to showcase your abilities in a manner that suggests you’re the #1 candidate.
The key is to tailor the letter to ensure your qualifications, level of experience and skills are the company’s ideal match. Clearly, this means crafting a different cover letter for every role you’re seeking. It may seem like a lot of work but if you get the gig, it will be well worth it! Successful candidates have the nous to perform detailed research of the company.
Don’t be the person that does the bare minimum!
Impress the hiring manager with your intimate knowledge of its industry by outlining the company’s most important challenges as well as pointing out the main sectors that are primed for growth. As an added bonus, your research should uncover the skills sought after by the company. This enables you to tailor your cover letter to an even greater degree which should unquestionably place you in the top tier of candidates.
Make sure you leave enough space to write about your experience and how it has provided you with the skills needed to meet the demands of the role. If you have an accomplishment relevant to the role or else you can show examples of your problem solving skills, don’t hesitate to include details in your letter.
Ultimately, the hiring company’s main concern is finding someone capable of finding and then solving problems.
Wrapping Things Up – Reiterate
Hopefully, you will have provided enough information to warrant an interview. Your closing statement should reiterate your desire to work in the role as well as explaining that you will be following up to schedule an appointment.
In the event that the hiring company doesn’t accept follow up calls, you can at least make sure that it received your cover letter. If nothing else, your persistence will ensure the company doesn’t forget you easily!
Don’t leave anything to chance, learn how to end a cover letter here.
What To Avoid When Writing a Cover Letter
Since your cover letter is one of likely hundreds to be received by a hiring team, it’s just as important to avoid making basic errors. Achieve this and your letter will automatically rise towards the top of the pile. Below, we look at the most common letter writing mistakes.
Getting The Recipient’s Name Wrong
Although it is better if you can personalise each cover letter, the old mantra ‘when in doubt, leave it out’ applies here. One way around this problem is to take the trouble of calling the hiring company to find out the name and title of the individual set to receive your letter.
As well as avoiding an embarrassing error, you will also impress the company by showing initiative.
Using The Wrong Tone
When it comes to the ‘tone’ of your cover letter, the company you want to work for and its industry are important considerations. For example, you will need to be formal if you are hoping to get a job in a big law firm. In contrast, a design agency may prefer a less formal letter.
However, you have to be careful not to fall into the trap of being ‘too’ informal; there is a fine line between being seen as someone with a sense of humour and someone who isn’t taking the process seriously.
Relying on a Template
Companies can spot a template letter a mile off no matter how you try to conceal it. People do it as a means of applying for a lot of jobs quickly but it’s a pointless exercise since the rejection rate will be close to 100%! Few things shout ‘lazy’ more than a stock letter.
If you can’t be bothered to do some research about the job and company, how likely is it that you’ll be a conscientious employee?
How to write a cover letter is a tricky balancing act as you have to show why you would be a great employee without sounding like a complete show-off. One way to navigate these troubled waters is to be casual when mentioning your skills.
For instance, state that you have the relevant experience and outline a previous work situation where you used your skills for the benefit of your company. Do NOT say you are a ‘master’ of something! Do you really think a hiring manager will want to interview you after reading about your ‘superior’ leadership skills?
It’s All About Me, Me, Me…
We get it. It’s your future on the line and your job application but, as harsh as it seems, the hiring company doesn’t care! What the hiring manager really wants to know is how hiring you is beneficial for the company.
As a result, it is better if you write your cover letter from the perspective of the hiring manager and outline how you can help the organisation, NOT how the organisation can help you.
There really is no excuse for not creating a well structured cover letter. Even if you’re applying for a design job, it is best if you don’t channel your inner Picasso on that particular canvas! The best layout involves standard font and text broken up into small and easy to read paragraphs.
At the same time, you have to ensure your letter stands out; there’s that balancing act again! A great idea is to draw attention to your skills by having them in bold or underlining them. Depending on how much space you have to play with on the page, consider writing skills/attributes in bullet point form.
Forgetting To Add Your CV!
Yes, this really is amateur stuff but it happens all the time. The main purpose of the cover letter is to get the hiring manager to read your CV. This is kind of difficult if there is no CV attached!
Adding a Photo
Unless you’re trying to get cast in the next ‘Lynx’ or ‘Nivea’ ad, there is no good reason for enclosing a photograph. The hiring manager will see what you look like if you are called for an interview.
Mentions of you Leaving Other Jobs
There is no good reason for mentioning anything about leaving previous jobs. Even if you were not to blame, it looks completely out of place on a cover letter and places question marks on your entire application. Again, you can cover it during the interview phase if you make it that far.
12 Quick Tips On How To Write a Cover Letter
- Keep it Short: Research shows that short letter work best.
- Don’t Waste Money on Expensive Paper: Plain white paper is absolutely fine! The content is far more important.
- Make it Easy to Read: A company’s hiring team will be extremely busy so don’t make it difficult to read. Ensure your cover letter is clear and concise.
- Use Action Words: These positive words help give your cover letter extra impact. For example, instead of saying ‘I have to carry out a study’, say ‘I devised and prepared a study’.
- Don’t Rely on Spell-check: Spell-check does not pick up everything! For instance, you could write ‘to’ instead of ‘too’ and it will go unnoticed by the program but not by the hiring manager! Reread your cover letter several times before submission.
- Personalisation: Make the hiring manager feel as if the letter is addressed to the company he represents as opposed to the typical generic dross he reads. Try and find the name of the person likely to read the letter and address it to him.
- Make Sure You Relate Your Skills to the Role: If the job calls for problem solving, communication and team working skills (and virtually all corporate jobs do to some degree), show that you possess these skills and outline how you have used them to great effect in a previous job.
- Show Knowledge of the Company: By showing you have gone the extra mile; you will immediately mark yourself out as one to watch. Hiring managers love candidates that display knowledge not only of the company but of the industry it is involved in.
- Write Like a Human: Instead of going down the path of jargon, clichés and general corporate speak, use your own words as it will read a lot better.
- Outline Your Availability: Tell them when you’re ready to begin working. Be as flexible as you can.
- Flattery Gets You Everywhere: There is nothing wrong with a little flattery as long as you are not too cloying. You can casually state that the company is ‘a leader in its field’ rather than gushing about how it is a ‘giant in its industry’.
- Be Enthusiastic: Although you must come across as a professional, it is also important to show some degree of excitement in your cover letter if possible. It will brighten the day of the hiring manager forced to read 63 templates. Just make sure you sound authentic.
How To Write A Cover Letter – Final Thoughts
We would love to be able to tell you precisely how to write a cover letter but the truth is, the content, tone and format depends not only on the position you are applying for but your own personality. What we can tell you is that a great cover letter will:
- Provide the recipient with a positive first impression of you.
- Quickly and concisely explain and market your best achievements.
- Explain why you should be called in for an interview in a single sentence.
- Clearly demonstrate your communication skills.
- Be able to interest the hiring manager to the point where he checks your CV.