Your cover letter is the first thing a recruiter will see, so it is essential that you introduce your CV in the best way possible. Although there's no such thing as the perfect letter, following a basic formula will help make your cover letter a worthy accompaniment to your CV.
The four stages of writing
Explain why you are writing, making sure it entices them to read on. If you're replying to an advert, say where and when you saw the advert and if there is a reference number, quote it.
- Second paragraph
Briefly explain your job and, if applicable, qualifications (professional/academic). Don't give too much away or they may not want to go on and read your CV. If you are replying to an advert, make sure the skills you specified are reflected in your CV.
- Third paragraph
Say why they should employ you and why you would be a good employee. Tell the company a little about themselves (e.g. "As the largest publishing company in the North West..."), to demonstrate your knowledge.
- Fourth paragraph
Lay down an action plan; say you would like the opportunity to meet them for an interview and you'll await their response, or that you'll call in a few days. You don't have to leave the ball in their court, although be wary of seeming to 'pester'; if you said you're going to call, make sure you do.
Dos and don'ts
- Make sure your letter is addressed to the right person at the right address, and that you meticulously spell everything correctly
- Put all your contact details on the cover letter, including address, phone numbers, email address etc. so that the prospective employer can get hold of you to invite you to interview
- Write or print your cover letter on good quality paper that matches the paper of your CV. Coloured paper should be avoided – for best results, stick to good quality, white paper
- Use bullet points where possible – it will be easier and quicker for the reader to scan. You should still include a proper introduction and ending to your letter
- Make your letter bespoke, customised to the employer. Anyone can download a standard cover letter, but personalisation shows that you've put in the effort
- Pick out specific traits or skills mentioned in the job advert and demonstrate why you think you're suitable
- Send your letter to 'Sir' or 'Madam' – find out who the right person is (ie department/HR manager) and address to them
- Send your letter without checking the main body of the text for spelling mistakes, typos, strange grammar, bad punctuation or smudged ink
- Write too much. Your letter should be succinct and to the point; there is no reason to duplicate the details shown in your CV
- Include negative information such as personality conflicts with previous employers, details of tribunals or adverse comments about your current employer
- Use long words to impress; if you're using words you wouldn't usually use, then don't bother. Similarly, don't get someone else to write the letter for you
Use of email
The key to making an impact when you are emailing an application is to customise it as much as possible to the job for which you are applying.
There are a three things to remember when you apply by email:
- Make sure your letter is written in a common system font (such as Arial or Verdana) with standard formatting and punctuation. Once it is sent to another computer, the whole presentation of the document may change, so the content has to be especially good.
- If your cover letter is written in the email body (as opposed to an attachment), make sure you apply the same formalities as you would in a hand-written letter, and perform a spell check before sending.
- Remember to attach your CV to the email!