Wondering how to write a cover letter? Whether you have no experience or 20 years under your belt, here are our top tips for writing a cover letter that recruiters really want to read.
In a recent survey of over 200 recruiters and hiring managers, 83% of respondents admitted that a good cover letter would convince them to call a candidate for an interview even if their CV wasn’t that impressive on its own.
Cover letters are great for candidates because they provide a chance to elaborate on your skills and experience and also mention any additional details that aren’t included in your CV. For employers, cover letters are a good way to get a more real feel of the candidate. Whilst automated recruitment systems filter through most CVs, picking up on a set of predetermined criteria, this is not enough to assess the suitability of a candidate. This is why cover letters have become such a necessary part of job applications.
Cover letters can seem particularly daunting for students or recent graduates who don’t have much work experience to demonstrate. However, you can benefit from a cover letter by highlighting the skills and experiences you picked up both whilst studying and from any volunteering activities.
We provide you with the lowdown on how to write the perfect cover letter to capture the attention of potential employers - whether you have lots of work experience or none at all!
How to Write a Cover Letter in 2023
- What is a cover letter?
- How to write the perfect cover letter – 8 top tips
- Cover letter dos and don’ts
- Cover letter examples
What is a cover letter?
A cover letter is a personal introduction that you write when applying for a job. It provides an opportunity to explain why you’re the best fit for a role and how your skills and experience match the job criteria. A cover letter is a great way to pitch yourself to a recruiter, so it’s important to tailor it for each role that you’re applying to. It shouldn’t read like a summary of your CV, or like a mass-distributed document.
How to write the perfect cover letter – 8 top tips
- Address your letter to the recruiter by name
- Format your letter
- Follow a structure
- Keep it short
- Explain your interest and suitability for this specific role
- Backup qualifications/skills with examples
- Convey enthusiasm and passion
- Get feedback before hitting send
1. Address your letter to the recruiter by name
Address your letter to the hiring manager or recruiter by name. For example – ‘Dear Mr. John Smith’ or ‘Dear Mr. Smith’. However, if you’re unsure about the title or gender, you could be better off using either first or last name, or both. Example – Dear John or Dear John Smith. You could also do away with the more formal ‘Dear’ and open with ‘Hello’ instead. Whenever possible, however, avoid using generic salutations like ‘Dear Sir or Madam’ or ‘To whom it may concern’. Read the job advert carefully to find the name of the hiring manager or HR representative and only use generic salutations when you’ve tried all other means to find a first and/or last name.
2. Format your letter
Presentation is key so It’s important to format your cover letter. It’s advisable to use the same font size and style as your CV. The recommended length for cover letters is one page divided into four or five paragraphs. It’s useful to have a template for your cover letter that looks similar in design to your CV. Include your name, email, and contact number on the top. This helps create uniformity across all your application collaterals. Using bullet points where possible is a great way to break up long paragraphs and keep your statements concise and to the point.
Read our advice on how to write a CV with no experience.
3. Follow a structure
We’ve already mentioned why it’s important to tailor your cover letter to each role you’re applying to. But it’s also helpful to have a ready structure or template that you can edit as and when you need. For example – each paragraph in your cover letter should have a clear message.
The first paragraph should reference the role you’re applying to. Mention where you saw the advert and give a short gist of your current role. For example – I came across your advertisement for the role of SEO executive on ‘___’ and am interested in applying.
The second paragraph should outline your relevant skills and experience and explain how they complement the criteria mentioned in the job description. This is also a good place to mention any additional skills that give you an edge and would benefit the company. A good tip is to mention the skills listed as ‘Desirable but not essential’ in this section, as this will give you a competitive advantage over other candidates who may not have these additional skills. Another piece of advice is to try and match your language to the job description and mention some of the keywords.
Example – if the job description mentions ‘keen attention to detail’, you should cite this in your cover letter and explain how you used this skill to your advantage. If you haven’t had any prior work experience, use examples from your personal life. It could be anything from organising a school fair to a volunteering gig. Regardless of where your experience was acquired, you should be able to demonstrate to what end and how effectively you used those skills.
The third paragraph shifts the focus to the company. Use this space to outline what attracted you to apply for this specific role and your USPs that make you an ideal fit.
Your final paragraph should reiterate your interest in the role. Request to be considered for an interview and end the letter with a polite ‘Thank you’ and ‘Yours Sincerely’ if addressing someone by name, or ‘Yours Faithfully’ if using a generic salutation. You can also mention your availability for interviews in this final section.
To help you improve the structure of your cover letters, please refer to the example cover letters below.
4. Keep it short
Hiring managers often have limited time to review numerous applications, which is why it is important to make sure you keep your cover letter as short as possible, while still including key information. Providing a concise cover letter allows them to quickly grasp your key qualifications and motivations. It also demonstrates your ability to communicate effectively and efficiently, a valuable skill in many professional roles. A short cover letter conveys respect for the reader's time while ensuring your application stands out as a polished and focused representation of your candidacy.
5. Explain your interest and suitability for this specific role
You might think you’re a great fit for a role and you probably are! But a hiring manager who’s never met you will need some convincing before calling you for an interview. Use your cover letter to explain why you would be a good hire for this specific role. Your answer should convey:
- Your research and knowledge of the company
- Your enthusiasm for this role
Read up on the company and its culture and mention a key element that interested or attracted you. For example – if the company has a great D&I policy, refer to this. It shows that you’ve done your research and allows you to commend the company on its initiatives. Also, take time to highlight specific projects or campaigns launched by the company and then explain how your skills can benefit them.
Consider this – ‘I know your company is trying to expand their social media reach. I have considerable experience across all major platforms with a considerable following on Instagram. I am excited to help you optimise your social media presence and grow your audience’.
6. Back up qualifications/skills with examples
A cover letter should be used to demonstrate how you’ve used your skills and experience. It’s not enough to say that you are great at lead generation. You have to back up your claims with facts and figures that corroborate this. If you mention that you have experience fundraising, provide details. For example – ‘I helped organise a fundraising event for our local library. We arranged a mini fête that was attended by local residents and managed to raise X amount’.
7. Convey enthusiasm and passion
Enthusiasm is contagious and can leave a lasting impression, setting you apart from other applicants. It showcases your motivation and drive, indicating that you are not simply looking for any job but are genuinely excited about the opportunity at hand. A passionate cover letter helps convey your dedication and commitment to making a meaningful contribution. Moreover, it creates an emotional connection with the reader, making them more inclined to consider you as a potential candidate and invite you for an interview.
8. Get feedback before hitting send
Obtaining feedback on your cover letter from peers before sending it to recruiters is crucial for multiple reasons. Firstly, external input provides a fresh perspective on your writing, enabling you to identify any areas that may require improvement or clarification. Peers can offer valuable insights and suggestions, helping you fine-tune your message and ensure it effectively communicates your skills and motivations. Additionally, receiving feedback allows you to catch any potential errors or inconsistencies that may have gone unnoticed, and may have otherwise come across as unprofessional to potential employers.
Cover letter dos and don’ts
|Dos of writing a cover letter||Don’ts of writing a cover letter|
|Write a strong opening statement to outline why you want the job and what you can bring to the role.||Don’t make your cover letter too long or try to cram all your professional skills and experience within.|
|Be clear and concise throughout your letter.||Don’t forget to proofread to avoid spelling or grammar mistakes.|
|Showcase your greatest professional achievements.||Keep your cover letter strictly professional, avoiding jokes or excessive flattery.|
|Use examples and figures to demonstrate your skills and experience.||Don’t use sweeping statements without facts and figures to support them.|
|Tailor each cover letter to the role you are applying for.||Avoid using a generic cover letter for each job application.|
Cover letter examples
Cover letters can be used to serve different purposes. A sample cover letter is usually sent alongside your CV when you’re applying for an advertised role.
You can also use a cover letter to explain a gap in your career. People take career breaks for various reasons ranging from childcare to travel. So if you’d take time off to go backpacking around Southeast Asia, a cover letter is a great way to explain your break.
A speculative cover letter is a proactive way to create an opportunity for yourself. For example – if you’re interested in a company and have recently heard about its expansion plans, you could send in a speculative cover letter to register your interest and get on the hiring manager’s radar.
See the following examples of cover letters for more inspiration:
Graduate cover letter example
Experienced professional cover letter example
By following these guidelines, you can create a cover letter that stands out from the competition, highlights your achievements, and shows potential employers why you are suitable for the role. Just remember to tailor it to each specific position, showcasing your unique skills and experiences. Maintain a professional tone while showcasing your enthusiasm, and make sure to always proofread before sending. With a well-crafted and compelling cover letter, you can make a lasting impression on recruiters and increase your chances of securing your dream job.
Are you looking for the next steps in your career? You can do so on our award-winning Graduate Careers Programme.