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How to Write a Cover Letter

Sep 23, 2021
11 min read

We know what it’s like. You’ve spent half an hour meticulously filling out an online application, tweaking your resume and researching every inch of a company’s website. Just before you go to hit that submit button, you notice another submission box – the cover letter. 

Writing a cover letter can often feel like a pointless exercise, particularly when you’ve gone to the trouble of writing your motivations and skills out already via an online form. However, it can be a crucial way of adding personality to your application. If the option to submit a cover is there, you should always do so, or risk being outcompeted by those who did. Even if there is no box, people are increasingly finding inventive ways to do so, by emailing the hiring manager separately or including it in the resume file. 

If you’re new to the cover letter writing game, or just want to make sure you’re up to speed on the latest trends and advice – we’ve got you!

What is a cover letter?

Traditionally, a cover letter is a short, written letter that you would attach to the front of your resume, explaining a little more about you, your motivations for applying and any other details the hiring manager should know about. Nowadays, it’s going out of fashion, with recruiters preferring to offer specific fields in the application form to make direct comparison between candidates easier. That being said, some hiring managers prioritise the cover letter over the resume, so it’s always worth doing.  

The Opener:

Include the Hiring Manager’s Name:

Your opening greeting should be tailored to the tone of the company. If it’s a young, trendy start-up, you might just want to write “Dear Jane” or another informal greeting. If it’s an established corporation, it is best to write “Dear Ms Jane Doe”. If you don’t know the hiring managers name, you could check LinkedIn or even call up the company! Avoid “To Whom it May Concern” since this is now considered outdated and stiff (not to mention unspecific). 

Start With a Killer Opening Line: 

You want to hook their attention, so get your USP in early! Avoid “My name is John and I’m applying for XYZ”, and go right in saying, “With 2 years-experience designing bold, intuitive websites as a UI designer, I’m excited to help you take your brand to the next level”. 

Write a Fresh Cover Letter for Each Job:

Hiring managers can sniff out a generic cover from a mile away, so show them your dedication to the application by keeping it fresh, specific, and highly tailored to the role. You can always reuse specific sentences from previous covers but be wary of it sounding disjointed. 

The Body

Don’t Regurgitate your Resume:

Try to avoid simply repeating aspects of your resume in your cover, since this is a waste of space. Instead, add story to your qualifications and provide further explanation for your achievements and skills. 

Be Authentic and Interesting:

The cover is genuinely the place for recruiters to determine your personality, so avoid filling it with cliches. It might be frustrating, but there truly is no one-size-fits-all template for writing about yourself. Finding your own unique voice and narrative is the best way to stand out and stay interesting. 

Showcase Your Skills: 

Consider the job description your cheat sheet, since hiring managers will have a similar list of criteria to be ticking off when looking over your cover. If they say they’re after a “self-starter”, or someone who knows Python, be sure to reference every skill you match clearly in the body of your cover letter. Even for those you don’t, you can speak enthusiastically about your desire to develop those skills, or how you can offer something similar. 

If you’re not quite sure what your skills are, try using a free online personality test, such as this Personality Assessment or the Work Mindset test.

Use Numbers and Statistics to Evidence your Impact:

Hiring managers love numbers, since it makes your impact concrete. Take a look back on your previous work and try to find ways to quantify your achievements. Whether it be increasing sales during a certain quarter by 15% or providing sales advice to 200+ customers a day, find creative ways to get those numbers in.

Reference highly relevant experience:

Tease out the tasks or projects you’ve been involved with that are directly relevant to the role you are applying for. Whether it be working in the same sector, working collaboratively in a similar sized team, or using the same digital tools, find ways to showcase how you will slot comfortably into this new role. 

Highlight “Pain Points” You Could Remedy:

This one is for those that really want to stand out from the crowd. Get to grips with the responsibilities of the role and the company at large and figure out issues that you think your new manager would like you to address when in the role. You could highlight these briefly in your cover and even suggest potential solutions!

Do your Research to Establish Tone:

Try to speak in the same narrative voice as that of the company. You can find this by reading through the website copy, blog posts or social media messaging. This is another strategy for ensuring that hiring managers deem you a good culture fit for the company, and that you could easily adhere to the company values. 

Be Enthusiastic, But Don’t Go Overboard:

Hiring managers want to know that you would actually enjoy being there, so keep the tone upbeat and enthusiastic. However, those that sound absolutely besides themselves with excitement might come across as insincere, so make sure to strike the right balance. 

Keep it 250-400 Words:

With so many to read through, it’s best to keep your cover letter short and sweet. You don’t want a manager looking at your cover and thinking “I’m not going to read all that”. Include a paragraph break every couple of sentences and get rid of any waffle. 

The Close

End With a Call to Action: 

Your opening line and your sign-off are the most important bits of your cover, so get them right. Let them know your availability for a follow-up and be sure to thank them for their time. For example: “Thank you very much for your consideration. Do feel free to get in touch by email if you have any questions about my application, or I’d be happy to arrange a quick call, whenever suits”. 

Consider Using a Signature:

Very few people do it these days but including a signature will add a little pizzaz to your cover and show that little personal touch that might keep you in their memory. 

Edit and Format:

It goes without saying but edit and edit again! A single typo could give them a reason to discard your application, so don’t give them the excuse. In terms of formatting, you might want to add visual design to your cover (make sure it is appropriate for the role/company you are applying for) and make sure any design features are consistent with your resume. Avoid using an online template builder, since recruiters will have seen them a hundred times before, making your resume look just like the rest. 

The Next Steps

Now that you’ve hopefully nailed the ideal cover letter for your upcoming application, it’s time to think of the next pieces which you’ll also need to include when applying. Of course, they are a great resume and an equally-impressive Linkedin.

​​As you probably know, a resume and/or a link to your Linkedin profile is always required for any job application since it dives even deeper into what you mentioned in your cover letter. Most young people who are new to the job market usually don’t have an idea how to apply to entry-level jobs effectively. If you don’t know how to make a good resume without experience, try to focus on your best soft skills.

The maintaining a Linkedin profile is as crucial to job-seekers as social media has become to business owners. Recruiters from numerous companies are searching for the best profiles to fill highly-desired positions. You can express not just what your resume included, but also show off your personality and unique selling point within your linkedin summary. As a plus, you’ll be able to engage in small talk and connect through shared interests with your interviewer or recruiter. Read our last article “How to write linkedin summary” and choose an example suit for your personal brand.

Good luck!