How to Write a Cover Letter

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A Guide to Writing a Persuasive & Powerful Cover Letter

Cover letters can seem daunting to write, but they’re an integral part of the application process. Plus, they let you show your personality and further explain why you’re the best fit for the job. The key is making sure that your cover letter is customised and crafted for the position you want. As you apply for jobs, use the following steps to write a cover letter that gets you the job you want.

The Basics of a Cover Letter

You need to know the basic format and high points that you need to cover before you can write a great cover letter. Here’s what your cover letter should include :

  • Your contact information at the top
  • The specific role that you’re applying to
  • An address to the hiring manager
  • A brief description of why you’re a good fit for the role (more on this next)
  • Your relevant experience and skills
  • A conclusion that reiterates your interest and ends with a call-to-action
  • Your Signature
The Basics of a Cover Letter

Assess Your CV

Before you write your cover letter, review and refresh your CV for the specific position. Are your skills and experience up-to-date? Does your CV accurately show that you’re an ideal applicant? Refer to this checklist to avoid making any critical mistakes that could cost you the job.

Your CV and cover letter work together as a pair to accurately portray you as a perfect candidate; one can’t succeed without the other.

The first scan of your CV may not be by human eyes, but by a computer programme or ‘Applicant Tracking System’. This means you have a matter of seconds to make a lasting impression, which isn’t a long time — less time than it takes to boil a kettle, in fact. But the seven-second rule doesn’t have to be dispiriting. If you know what recruiters are looking for in your CV, you can use this to your advantage.

According to James Reed, chairman of recruitment company REED and author of the new book, The 7 Second CV, "Your CV has one purpose only: to win you the interview. In order to get there, your CV needs to be able to show the person reading it that you are the best person for the job. So, how do you do this in seven seconds? It’s all about knowing and articulating your unique selling points. Yes, you should list and evidence your relevant work history, skills and achievements, but you should also emphasise what makes you unique. What can you bring to the table that other candidates cannot? The best CVs I’ve read are ones that give me a flavour for who this person is, not just what they can do."

Assess Your CV

Read and Understand the Job Advert

Don’t just skim job postings. When you take the time to read it thoroughly, your cover letter will shine. If the advert says cover letter optional—still write a one. Taking the easy route can make you come off as a lazy candidate—even an intro email serves as a digital cover letter of sorts.

Job ads are no longer just a source of information on the roles and requirements of a position — they are employers’ most important recruitment marketing assets. So if a company's job ads are completely focused on what they are looking for in a new hire versus what they have to offer, this company may not be resonating with you, especially in a job seeker’s labour market like the one we currently find ourselves in.

In today’s fast-paced, hyper-connected world, it can be nearly impossible to switch off from work. That’s why joining a company that encourages good work-life balance — proven to significantly benefit both workers and employers — is one of the top selling points for nearly half (47 percent) of job seekers, Glassdoor research found.

An easy, convenient commute was most important to 48 percent of job seekers, followed by high salaries and attractive benefits and perks. Company culture (35 percent), whether the company’s financial performance is good (25 percent) and familiarity with the brand (24 percent) were found to be less important to job seekers.

As you search for a job, think about these attributes, read through the job advert to see if companies offer these.

Read and Understand the Job Advert

Use Keywords

In the meat of your content, it’s important to use job-related keywords. These keywords can be picked up in applicant tracking software, which could get your cover letter read ahead of others. TopResume explains how to find these keywords:

“Go back to the job advert and carefully look for keywords. These more likely are listed in the requirements section and include hard skills unique to the position. While resisting the urge to copy-paste the exact description into your cover letter, rewrite the description in your own words, aligning it with your resume and using the keywords.”

One big mistake candidate’s make on their resume is using superfluous adjectives that don’t necessarily make sense. 

“People tend to use keywords like “results-driven” or “dynamic” without really providing a factual basis for those things,” says Wendi Weiner, attorney and career branding expert. “Focus on results that you effectuated at the organizations and the key contributions you made.”

For example, when writing bullet points under your job descriptions, you should avoid starting the sentence with “responsible for,” or “responsibilities included.” Instead, Weiner advises that you use a powerful action verb (such as, “streamlined,” “orchestrated,” “boosted, “ etc.,) in order to really sell your potential and craft a winning resume.

Action verbs help you describe what you’ve accomplished and how you’ve contributed to a company,” says Amanda Augustine, Career Advice Expert for TopResume. “Use verbs that clearly explain what you achieved for the company, not just what tasks you performed for them. Did your responsibilities lead you to generate revenue, decrease costs, improve customer satisfaction, or increase brand awareness? Start your bullets with words that describe the result you achieved and you’ll be sure to impress the hiring manager.”

Don’t just use your Thesaurus to change words into keywords – with a little extra time spent looking over the job description, and some tweaking in your sentences, you’ll polish off a winning resume in no time. 

Use Keywords

Match Your Experience to The Role

Don’t merely reiterate your CV. A cover letter is your chance to elaborate on relevant skills and experience by telling stories of past accomplishments and successes. Highlight the unique talents that you bring to the table by painting a picture of what you can do for the company.

When appropriate, use numbers and statistics to support your background and expertise. Steer clear of any irrelevant information, and instead include only value-driven content that relates to the position.

End on a Confident Note

It’s a job seeker myth that you shouldn’t apply to a job if you don’t meet all the requirements. If you have 75 to 80 percent of the skills, go for it. Don’t use your cover letter to apologise for what you’re missing (“While I have limited experience in..”), and instead, use it to display your many strengths.

If you find it necessary to address a spot where you lack experience, focus instead on transferable skills, that can relate to what you’re missing. Don’t forget to end your cover letter with a strong call-to-action, that outlines the next steps.

End on a Confident Note

Learn More!

Cover letters can be time-consuming, but they give you a chance to make the argument for why you’re the best candidate. Take your time, research the position and the company; your knowledge will show up in your cover letter. Remember to make your content actionable, keyword-rich, and relevant to the position and always support your skills and experience with real-life examples and then wait for that interview request.

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