How to write a cover letter

Most people think they know how to write a cover letter. And indeed, it is very straightforward to write a general cover letter.

However, most people underestimate the importance of their cover letter, and they don't realise that there is a lot more involved than meets the eye.

Transforming a cover letter

Turning a typical cover letter into one which grabs the employer's attention and gives you more chance of success in the job market is far easier said than done. Indeed, in many instances, it is more of a case of going back to the drawing board, rather than mere tweaking and updates.

This page gives you more help, tips and advice about how to write a cover letter. Please see below for more details.



More tips and advice on how to write a cover letter

Cover Letter Basics

Firstly, you need to understand just what is a covering letter?
Some people make the mistake of overcomplicating things and creating a cover letter as a substitute for a CV. It isn't. A cover letter is a cover letter, not a CV. It should support the CV, not replace it or be a substitute for it.

You also need to be aware of the fact that cover letters are supposed to be concise. Some people write cover letters which are two or three pages in length. This is too long. You should be trying to entice the employer to read your cover letter, not detract him/her from reading it.

Start your cover letter with your contact details. After all, if the employer wants to offer you the job, you want them to be able to contact you. It is best to include your name, address, telephone number(s) and e-mail address. e.g.:

Personal Details

Jayne Marsh
22 York Avenue, Malton, North Yorks, UK
Tel: 01234 222 333

Job Reference Numbers

    If you are applying to a job with a reference number then include that reference number.
    E.g. Ref 23345


    It is customary to include the date, and it is advisable to do that.
    E.g. 12 June 2012


    If you know the name of the person you want to contact then add the person's name.
    E.g. FAO Mr Johnson

    Company Addresses

    While it is not obligatory, it is customary to add to prospective employer’s address to the cover letter.
    ABC Ltd
    1 Brick Lane


    If you are applying speculatively start off the salutation ‘Dear Sirs,’
    If you are applying for a particular job then either add the name of the person dealing with the applications (if you have his/her name), or if you don't know this you can also use ‘Dear Sirs,’

    Starting your cover letter

    It is customary to mention where you saw the job advertised.
    E.g. With reference to your advertisement of May 31st in the Guardian....

    You should draw the person reading the cover letter’s attention to the fact that you have also attached a curriculum vitae, and you should also entice him/her to read your CV.

    E.g. ...please find a copy of my CV attached for your attention.

    The all-important body of your cover letter

    After the introduction, the next part is the hardest part; namely telling the employer the kind of things that he/she wants to hear. As mentioned, ideally you need to do this in one page, and it isn't just a case of repeating what you say in the CV parrot fashion or paraphrasing whole sections of your CV, you need to do it in a more original, pertinent and engaging way. This is the part that most people struggle with, and if you want the best results then it is an idea to engage a professional writer to do the job for you.

    Things to consider including are how well qualified you are for the post, what experience you have, and just what you can do for the employer. If you can sell your key skills proactively and weave in relevant keywords, then all the better.

    As mentioned you need to do this in a concise and legible manner.

    As well as considering what to include, you also need to think about what to exclude, because many people overcomplicate cover letters, and this is counter-productive.

    The Ending

    If you are writing a targeted cover letter then you should sign off ‘ yours sincerely’
    If you are writing a speculative cover letter and then you should sign off ‘yours faithfully’

    Final Tips

    Remember that the most effective cover letters are individual, written from your own perspective and your own circumstances. Example cover letters are useful to some degree, but nothing is as good as well worded, pertinent and powerful original cover letter.

Related Links:
How to write a CV
What is a covering letter

The above advice on how to write a cover letter is taken in parts from a comprehensive book written by one of our senior consultants, Paul. You can read more about cover letters, and a lot more besides in Paul's detailed book.

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