How to write a cover letter

Don’t overlook the importance of a cover letter. It is your virtual introduction.

With most potential employers, your cover letter is your first impression. It is the first thing an employer sees, especially in this age of online applications. Because your cover letter is doing the talking for you, it is important to make the best use of it. After all, a good cover letter and resume is what will get you to the next phase: an interview.

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What does a good cover letter do?

  • Explains what position you are seeking.
  • Outlines why you are qualified for the position.
  • Demonstrates your written communication skills.
  • Motivates the employer to read your resume.
  • Gives you the edge on another candidate with similar skills.
  • Provides more context than your resume can. For example, if you have a gap in employment (perhaps you were laid off or taking time to care for your family) then a cover letter gives you an opportunity to explain. However, only do this if it feels necessary or appropriate.
  • Includes a referral if you have one (if someone within the company told you about the job then you may like to mention that).
  • Uses bullet points to outline key wins or relevant metrics you want to highlight.
  • Closes with a call to action.
  • Thanks the potential employer for the opportunity.

What to avoid in a cover letter:

  • Not explaining key details like what job you are seeking and why you are a worthy candidate. Be specific. Generic cover letters that are getting sent to everyone are instantly recognisable and will probably land you in the rejection pile.
  • Drawing attention to the skills you do not have. Focus on where you are a match, and on highlighting what you can offer.
  • Using the word “I” too much.
  • Making sloppy mistakes like misspelling the company name.
  • Using unprofessional language.
  • Making negative comments (e.g. about a past job).
  • Poor grammar or poor formatting.
  • Lack of effort by making your letter too short (e.g. one paragraph).
  • Writing more than one page – that would be too long.
  • Including personal information (e.g. about your family).
  • Questions about salary, benefits, etc. Save those questions for face-to-face, when you are further along in the process.
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Not all job postings will ask for a cover letter. Research estimates that half of job applicants do not include one. If you write one then you are already ahead of half the job-seeking population. Where one is not required, it demonstrates that you are willing to go the extra mile. This is a sought after attribute in an employee.

We hope by now you are convinced of the importance of a good cover letter. You may like to write one free form, using our tips, or you can use our free cover letter template.
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written by alison starratt