When you are looking to apply for a new job, what first comes to mind?
If your answer was ‘A Resume!’, that comes of no surprise. While resumes have been the focus of most jobseekers, cover letters are the neglected of the two job application siblings.
But, they are also often the most confusing. It can be hard to understand the purpose of a cover letter, and what to include in it.
Today, you're in luck! I’ll let you in on my secrets of writing a good cover letter.
Here is a step-by-step guide. So sit tight, and let’s get started.
Writer’s tip: Stick till the end of the article. A bonus checklist awaits.
Before we start with the cover letter proper, let us begin with the format of the cover letter.
You want to ensure that the font and font size of the cover letter is the same as your resume, so that there is consistency between the two materials.
For example, if you have been using Arial size 11 for most of the content in your resume, make sure that you use the same font and font size for your cover letter.
With that out of the way, let’s delve into the different sections of a cover letter.
The general format of the entire cover letter goes like this:
First, you should include the same personal details as per your resume: Your full name, contact details, and your LinkedIn page.
This is rather self-explanatory. It provides an easy way for the correspondence to contact you if he/she is interested in any further discussion.
When you do know the correspondence beforehand, adding the correspondence’s name and position in the company is a nice personal touch.
But this is optional, as you might not always know the person and position of this person you are sending the cover letter to.
Sometimes, you might be sending a cold email to a company, or applying to a job with no information about the person in charge of the position. In this case, instead of addressing a specific person, you can write “Dear Sir/Madam”, or some variation of this.
For me, I like cover letters starting with a headline to bring to attention the purpose of the cover letter, and the position you are applying for.
It can be something as simple as:
Application for the post of <NAME OF JOB VACANCY>
This gives the reader an easy reference to the position you are trying to apply for and gives him/her more context to the cover letter.
Now on to the main event!
With the design and format of the cover letter down pat, it is time for the most important part of the cover letter: the content of the letter itself.
The cover letter content can be broken down into three parts:
The introduction should be a short yet strong pitch to the reader. It serves a few key purposes:
Demonstration of strong interest
First, you should show a strong interest in the position you are applying for. Do this by offering brief reasons to show your interest and fit for the open role.
Overview of key strengths
It is also important to condense your key strengths into 1 to 2 lines. This helps the reader understand that you are well qualified and skilled, compelling him/her to read on.
If you successfully catch the reader’s attention here, he/she will naturally be interested. The reader would want to find out more about you and whether you can match the company’s needs.
After catching the reader’s attention, you now want to convince him/her that you are the ideal candidate for the job.
Within these 1 or 2 paragraphs, these are 2 things you should do:
Demonstrate your unique proposition
There might be many candidates that have similar experiences and skillsets as you. Here’s the key question to ask yourself:
Among the many candidates that are vying for this job, what makes you stand out?
You have to show your unique proposition, something that other candidates cannot offer.
This can be in the form of some special projects managed, extensive experience in related industries, awards, and accolades, etc.
Explain your key skills and experiences
After differentiating yourself as a candidate, you will also need to explain your skills and experiences, and how they relate to the job vacancy.
After all, every employer is trying to hire someone to solve certain problems they face.
First, you will have to find out what kind of skills they are looking for. This can be based on the job details itself, or online research on platforms such as Glassdoor and LinkedIn.
You will then have to prove that you are the perfect candidate, well-versed in the skills they require.
It is time to end with a punch. The closing paragraph of your cover letter should do these few things:
Reiterate your interest in the company
First, show a reaffirmation to your interest in the company.
Prove that you are the ideal candidate for the company
Next, reiterate your top skills and how they perfectly match the needs and requirements of their ideal candidate.
Show that you are the missing link that can contribute and fulfil all their requirements.
Provide contact details and invitation for an interview
Finally, urge the reader to invite you for further discussion.
Add a subtle call to action that will prompt the reader to consider you for the role, and to invite you to take the next step in the application (a job interview!)
Congratulations on making it this far! Think that you have mastered how to write a cover letter? Not so fast!
After writing your cover letter writing, keep the following tips in mind to further refine your cover letter.
When writing your cover letter, you might be focused on showing off all your skills and experiences to impress the reader.
While it is important to demonstrate them, relevance is key.
Emphasise on the attributes that show how you can contribute to the company, rather than simply about yourself
By putting the company before yourself, it shows the reader than you are committed to the company.
Avoid rambling and including irrelevant details.
The ideal length of a cover letter will be one page or less.
The key is to succinctly give the reader a good idea of who you are as a candidate, and why he/she should read your other application materials in more detail.
A final tip here is based on a common mistake that many people make.
Don't simply copy and paste things from your resume! What's the point of having two different materials if they present the same exact content?
In the cover letter, avoid simply listing your achievements. As you are given a chance to elaborate, make sure that you drive home the point to show how you are the candidate that best fulfils their requirements.
If you have followed the steps and taken note of the tips above, writing a cover letter should come much easier for you.
When you write your own cover letter, be sure to check against these questions in our bonus cover letter checklist.