How to Write the Perfect 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 the perfect cover letter that gets you the job you want.

What is a Cover Letter?

A cover letter is your chance to elaborate on relevant skills and experience in your CV by telling stories of past accomplishments and successes while explaining how they are relevant to the position you are applying for.

What to Include in a Cover Letter

In order to write an effective 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 you should include in a cover letter:

  1. Your contact information at the top
  2. The specific role that you’re applying to
  3. An address to the hiring manager
  4. A brief description of why you’re a good fit for the role (more on this next)
  5. Your relevant experience and skills
  6. A conclusion that reiterates your interest and ends with a call-to-action
  7. Your signature

Related: How to Start a Cover Letter: 5 Great Opening Lines

cover letter structure

How to Write a Cover Letter

Here are X simple steps to write a cover letter that gets noticed:

  1. Assess Your CV
  2. Read and Understand the Job Advert
  3. Use Keywords
  4. Match Your Experience to The Role
  5. End on a Confident Note

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."

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.

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 of the mistakes candidates make on their CV 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 organisations 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. 

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

Match Your Experience to The Role

Don’t merely reiterate your CV. 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

Avoid these common mistakes

There’s definitely an art to writing a great cover letter, so here are some of the most common cover mistakes you'll want to avoid:

  1. Avoid regurgitating your CV - Remember, the employer already has your CV, so there’s no need to repeat your entire work history. Focus on making your career narrative and relevant qualifications crystal clear.
  2. Don't use a generic template letter - Take time to review the job listing again and identify the top three things the hiring manager appears to be seeking in an ideal candidate. Use this information to customise your message. Explain how you are a good fit for the role by summarising your qualifications based on their requirements. Better yet, open your cover letter with a story that provides proof of your skills the employer cares about most.
  3. Don't only talk up your soft skills - Avoid adding too many soft skills rather than focusing on job-related skills. Instead do your best to set yourself apart by explaining how your hard skills and experience could add value to their organisation.
  4. Writing too much - An overly wordy cover letter is a waste of time and a big mistake. Employers are pressed for time and simply do not see the value in investing their time reading a lengthy cover letter.
  5. Avoid including non-essential information - The main thing you want to get in your cover letter is why you’re the right fit for the job. The manager doesn’t need to read about extracurricular activities that are not work-related or about every book you’ve ever read.
  6. Not Referencing Next Steps - Close your cover letter by giving the employer your interview availability. By doing this, the hiring manager automatically thinks in their head, ‘Hmm, what am I doing that day?’ By getting into their mental schedule, you are already penciling yourself in.”

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.

To save you some time, here are some cover letter templates for different occupations along with expert tips on what to include:

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