Published July 21, 2021
How to Write a Cover Letter That’s Unique (Like You)
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Writing a cover letter from scratch can be a daunting task. It can be simpler to follow a template, but these rarely feel personal and many lack passion. Passion is something that needs to be translated in your cover letter. It can be the difference between making the interview shortlist and never hearing a peep from the employer.
To stand out in a heaping pile of job applications, your cover letter needs to be as unique as you are. It’s an employer’s first impression of you, and this is a key thing to consider when writing your own.
Think of it this way: your CV tells people what you can do. Your cover letter tells people who you are.
It’s your first (and potentially only) chance to demonstrate the traits that make you a dedicated professional, and a great person to work with.
So, to make sure you’re giving the best impression possible, writing a cover letter from scratch is a great idea. It’s even more important if the job listing specifically asks for a cover letter — the employer is looking for a teaser-trailer of you.
There’s no doubt it’s a tricky document to write. There are rigid constraints on what to include, what not to include, and how long it can be. This article covers everything you need to know about writing a cover letter, including:
- The purpose of a cover letter
- How long your cover letter should be
- What to include in your cover letter (and what not to include)
- How to start and end your cover letter
If you’ve been staring at a blank document for the last 15 minutes, take a deep breath. You’ve found the answers to all your questions.
What is a cover letter?
A cover letter is a one-page business letter that accompanies your resume in a job application. How well you execute it can be the difference between your resume hitting the recycling bin, and an invitation to interview.
A business document
Cover letters are formal documents that observe a set of rules and conventions, while also giving you the opportunity to show off your strong written communication skills.
A selling tool
While your resume provides the what, your cover letter provides your why. Think of it as your most powerful selling tool for the job search. Why? Because it tells the story of how your skills, experience and personality align with the role, making you the perfect candidate.
Tailored to the job
As much as possible, it should be tailored for each job vacancy, which means you can’t get away with copying and pasting your LinkedIn summary. But that doesn’t mean you have to write an entirely new letter from scratch every time – just that you should do some considerable tweaking to your basic template, addressing the key points in the job description.
Best Cover Letter Examples & Why They Work
The best cover letters can distinguish between passionate job seekers from the rest. Learn how to tailor your cover letter to stand out.
How to write a cover letter from scratch
If you’re wondering how to write a good cover letter, it’s actually simpler than it seems — if you tick all the boxes, and match it to the job advertisement.
Back in the days when job applications were submitted in person or through the post, your cover letter would have been a formal typed, printed letter. These days, it’s much more common to send a cover letter via email, and so things have become somewhat less formal – though this does depend on the company you are applying to.
For instance, if your potential employer is a bank, you’d be well advised to stick to the conventions. You can get a little more colourful with your expression (and your formatting!) if you’re applying in a creative industry.
Here’s what to include in a cover letter, in order:
Address it to the right person
Whenever possible, use the name of the recruiter, or the hiring manager. If you can, avoid “To Whom it May Concern”. A cover letter is your chance to speak directly, and personally, to the person who might read your resume. So find them! Their name could be listed on the job advertisement, but if it isn’t, try searching for the company on LinkedIn and finding the head of recruitment, or the manager of the relevant department. Otherwise, it’s worth calling the company on the phone and asking who to address your application to. Once you’ve found them, make sure to use their surname, eg. ‘Ms Levins’.
Introduce yourself and the job you’re applying for
Your opening paragraph should be one to three sentences long. State your name, and what job title you’re interested in. If you have a connection to the company, mention that here. If not, there’s no need to specify how you came across the job advertisement. Wrap this up with one key, standout reason you’d want to work for this employer, mentioning the company name. This shows you’ve done your research and that you specifically want to work for this company – recruiters want to know that you want this specific job, not just any job.
Why you’re the perfect fit for the job
In the next paragraph, explain why you are the right person for the job. Do this by taking the key requirements from the job description, and describing two to three examples of relevant experiences or achievements from your work history to illustrate that you have the qualities and relevant skills. If you can, list them in bullet points — this will help the recruiter scan it quickly. The key here is to stay humble while showing how you contribute to the team.
Why the company is the perfect fit for you
In paragraph three, explain to your prospective employer why the company appeals to you. Perhaps one of their recent initiatives aligns with your values, such as a charity program they run. Or maybe you share their approach to the industry, such as using data to design personalised services, or baking sourdough bread from scratch. Explain why you can see a future with this employer.
A strong conclusion with a call-to-action
This is not the place to taper off! You want to wrap up your letter in an assured way that encourages the recruiter to move you to the next stage of the application process. State outright that you are enthusiastic about the position, and that you’re looking forward to the opportunity to discuss it further. Include your phone number and email address. Then, thank them for their time and consideration, and use a formal sign-off, such as ‘Kind Regards’.
How long should a cover letter be?
A cover letter should be between a half-page and a full-page long, comprising three paragraphs of three to five sentences each.
If you’re applying for more senior or complex professional roles, your cover letter will naturally be closer to a page long, since you will have more experience to discuss.
What should I leave out?
- Typos or grammatical errors
- Using the word “I” too often
- An unprofessional email address, such as firstname.lastname@example.org
- Any details which could form the basis of discrimination, such as age, sexual orientation, or your ethnic background
- Mentioning your other job applications
- Informal greetings or sign-offs, like “Hey there” & “Cheers”
How to Format Your Cover Letter [+ Examples]
Use these formatting guidelines and example sentences to increase you chance of getting shortlisted.
How to start and end a cover letter
The start of your cover letter sets the tone for the rest, while the end of the cover letter determines what the hiring manager will do next.
Here are some helpful approaches you can use at the start and end:
Ways to start a cover letter
- Show your enthusiasm for the organisation
- Mention a mutual connection to the organisation, such as a recommendation
- Put your best achievement forward
- Bring up a specific positive event, fact, or achievement from the company that recently hit the news
- Tell a (very) short story about why you’re so passionate about what you do
- Tell a creative story of a past success
- Share your ethos about the industry or your job
Ways to end a cover letter
- Mention your biggest past achievement, and offer to repeat it for them
- Say what you admire about their approach, and declare your excitement to contribute
- List your top skills, experience and talents, and connect them to the role
Now that your questions are answered, it’s time to re-open that blank document and get cracking on your cover letter. With an understanding of how to translate your passion and personality into your cover letter, you can be sure you’ll stand out.
If you’d like to go a step further in standing out, consider using a designed cover letter. These can make a great impact, especially if you’re trying to get a role that involves a bit of creativity (think design, marketing, video and film — any job where you need a creative streak). Browse the range of cover letter design templates to see if any reflect you as a professional.
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