Back to Basics: cover letter writing

What is a Cover Letter?

A cover letter is a document sent alongside your CV when applying for jobs. It acts as a personal introduction and helps to sell your application. A cover letter is necessary as it gives you the chance to explain to an employer why you’re the best candidate for the job. You do this by highlighting relevant skills and experience; therefore you should always write your cover letter with the position you’re applying for in mind.

How to create a Cover Letter?

Keep your cover letter brief, while making sure it emphasises your suitability for the job. It can be broken down into the following sections:

  • First paragraph – The opening statement should set out why you’re writing the letter. Begin by stating the position you’re applying for, where you saw it advertised and when you are available to start.
  • Second paragraph – Cover why you’re suitable for the job, what attracted you to this type of work, why you’re interested in working for the company and what you can offer the organisation.
  • Third paragraph – Highlight relevant experience and demonstrate how your skills match the specific requirements of the job description. Summarise any additional strengths and explain how these could benefit the company.
  • Last paragraph – Use the closing paragraph to round up your letter. Reiterate your interest in the role and indicate your desire for a personal interview. Now is the time to mention any unavailable dates. Finish by thanking the employer and say how you are looking forward to receiving a response.

How to address a Cover Letter?

Always try and address your cover letter directly to the person who will be reading it. Bear in mind that you’re more likely to receive a reply if you send it to the right person.

Advertised positions usually include a contact name, but if not, it is worth taking the time to find out who the letter should be addressed to. You can do this by searching the company’s website for details of the hiring manager or alternatively you could call the organisation to ask who you should address your letter to. Don’t be afraid to do this, many employers appreciate you taking the time and initiative to do so.

If you’re struggling to find a named contact you can use a general greeting such as:

  • Dear Sir/Madam
  • Dear Hiring manager
  • Dear Human resources director.

However, general greetings should only be used once you have exhausted methods of finding a named contact.

How you sign off your cover letter depends on how you addressed it. If you include a named contact, sign off ‘yours sincerely’. If you use a general greeting, finish with ‘yours faithfully’.

5 tips for the perfect Cover Letter

  1. Tailor to the organisation – You should rewrite your cover letter every time you apply for a position in order to target the company. Sending out a generic letter for all applications rarely yields positive results and recruiters can spot your lack of time and effort from a mile away.
  2. Proofread – Never rely on a computer spellcheck program to pick up every mistake. Print off your cover letter and double-check for spelling and grammar errors before passing it to a family member or friend to look over. Also make sure that your own contact details and the company name are correct.
  3. Format – Presentation is important so you’ll need to format your cover letter properly. Make sure the document is as uncluttered as possible, use the same font and size as you use in your CV and if you’re sending it through the post or handing it in use good quality plain white paper to print it on.
  4. Identify your USPs – They’re your unique selling points. Be positive about what you have to offer and clearly outline how your skills and experience meet those requested in the job description. Demonstrate why you’re the perfect candidate.
  5. Include examples – Back up the claims in your cover letter with real evidence or examples that show how and when you’ve used your skills and experience.

Extracts taken from Prospects: https://www.prospects.ac.uk/careers-advice/cvs-and-cover-letters/cover-letters

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