If you’ve ever applied for a job, you’ll know that writing the cover letter is the most difficult part of almost any job application.  Your cover letter creates the first impression, and often determines whether an employer will even look at your CV.

 

You need to use this opportunity to introduce yourself and your skills, and to set yourself apart from all the other candidates. You can also use this opportunity to explain any gaps in your CV, and to motivate why you are the right person for the job.

 

Let’s have a look at the format of your cover letter:

  • Your cover letter should be clear and concise. Keep it short – ideally, your letter should fit onto one side of an A4 page.

 

  • Use a standard font, such as Arial or Times New Roman, to type your e-mail.

 

  • If you are sending a hard copy of your cover letter: use the standard letter format, with your address at the top right, and the recipient’s address below that, on the left.

 

  • If you are sending your cover letter via e-mail: write the letter in the body of the e-mail, and start with the salutation (instead of your address).

 

  • If you are responding to a job advertisement via e-mail, use the subject line provided in the advertisement. If no subject line was provided, use a relevant subject line that refers to the position being advertised. E.g. “Application for Project Management Assistant position (ref. no. 4231)”.

 

Salutation

If you know the name of the person to whom you are writing:

  • Start your letter by addressing the recipient by name: e.g. “Dear Mr John Smith/Dear Ms Joanne Smith”

If you don’t know the name of the person to whom you are writing (and only if you have no way of establishing the recipient’s name):

  • Start your letter by addressing the recipient in one of the following ways:  “Dear Hiring Manager” or “Dear Sir/Madam”

In an e-mail, you can also leave out the salutation entirely (and replace it with a subject line) if you don’t know the name of the intended recipient, and you feel uncomfortable using an impersonal salutation such as “Dear Sir/Madam”.

 

First Paragraph

Introduce yourself, and explain why you are writing the letter.

If you are responding to a job advertisement, state which advertisement you are responding to, and indicate where you found it.

For example:

“I would like to apply for the position of Graphic Designer, as advertised in the Career Times on 1 March 2015.”

 

If possible, mention a mutual contact or acquaintance.

For example:

“Samantha Stevens mentioned that you are looking for an experienced Graphic Designer with a keen interest in the fashion industry.”

 

Second Paragraph

Mention your qualifications, skills and experience, and relate them to the needs of the company. Give relevant examples of how you have used your skills in the past to perform similar tasks and responsibilities to those set out in the job description.

 

Third paragraph

Explain why you want to work for this organisation in particular. Where relevant, explain any gaps in your CV. If you don’t have the required academic qualifications, for example, you can explain how your practical work experience makes up for it.

 

Fourth paragraph

Mention any documents or attachments that you have included with your cover letter, and state your availability for an interview.

 

Close

Thank the recipient for taking the time to read your letter, and sign off with a professional greeting, such as “Yours sincerely” or “Kind regards”, followed by your full name, telephone number, and e-mail address.

For example:

Example - cover letter closing paragraph

 

Additional Tips:

 

  • Proofread your cover letter to make sure that there are no grammar or spelling mistakes.

 

  • Keep the tone professional, but choose a writing style that suits the position you are applying for. When choosing your writing style, take into account both the industry and the corporate culture of the organisation.

 

  • As far as possible, write your letter in the active voice.

 

  • Don’t overuse the word “I”.

 

  • Instead of focusing on yourself: focus on the organisation, and on how you can help the organisation to solve its problems and achieve its goals.

 

  • Do plenty of research on the organisation to help you determine what their values are, what their goals are, and what their major challenges are. This will help you to explain why you want to work for this particular organisation, as well as why you are the right person for the job. (Remember that most employers are not only looking for someone who can do the job, but for someone who will fit in with their organisational culture).

 

  • Instead of telling the employer (or recruiter) that you are the right person for the job: use examples to show them that you are the right person for the job. You can, for example, tell a brief story about how you solved a similar problem (or achieved a similar goal) in your current or previous job.  

 

  • Remember to personalise or adapt each cover letter to match the position you are applying for. You can still keep a rough template on which you base all your cover letters, but you need to make sure that each cover letter you send addresses the needs and expectations of the organisation to which you are applying.

 

Final thoughts:

Remember that the aim of your cover letter is to get the employer to go further and read your CV. To achieve this, you need to make sure that your letter sets you apart from all the other candidates, and that it conveys your enthusiasm for the position and organisation to which you are applying.

 

Links to useful resources:

Click on the links below to access cover letter templates, writing tips, and other useful resources: