Covering Letters: A Guide
Your CV is ready...you have identified your dream job... but now you need to write the covering letter.
Writing a covering letter which shows you in the best possible light and has an impact as to whether you go on to the next step of the selection process can be a daunting task.
Here is a comprehensive guide on the various things to think about when drafting your next covering letter!
FIRST THINGS FIRST...
1. Write a fresh covering letter for each job:
When you are applying for a lot of different jobs, the idea of writing a custom letter for each job application can feel exhausting. Whilst it is fine to ‘recycle’ some of your stronger phrases from one letter to the next, companies want to see that you are genuinely excited about working with them and the specific position they are advertising.
Companies will be able to spot a generic letter and this will be a turn off. Writing things such as: “Dear Hiring Manager, I am excited to apply for the open position at your company”, will be a clear signal that you are sending the same letter to every company that you can.
2. Find out the name of the hiring manager:
The most traditional way to address a cover letter is to use the person’s first and last name, including the title “Mr” or “Ms”. We would only recommend dropping the title and last name if you know for certain that the company you are applying to takes a casual approach or, if you know the hiring manager personally.
You may be unsure as to what title to use; maybe based on the name, or perhaps you are not sure how the hiring manager may identify. If this is the case, then drop the title.
Do not use “To Whom it May Concern” or “Dear Sir or Madam” - this is very archaic, not customised and gives the impression that you did not take the time to do your research.
It might be difficult to find the hiring manager’s name, so a good alternative is to address the cover letter to the head of the department for the role you are applying for.
THE MAIN EVENT
3. Your opener
There is no need to start your letter by saying your name, such as “My name is ...” - the hiring manager can already see this on your CV.
It is a good idea to mention the job you are applying for, as that company may have various different positions available but only one hiring manager looking at all of them. You can consider something such as “I am excited to apply for the role of [job] with [name of company]”.
Consider also adding a sentence right at the beginning that highlights your passion for the work you do or your past accomplishments.
4. The main body of your letter:
Remember - this covering letter accompanies your CV and therefore you do not need to repeat all the facts here. Use the covering letter to expand on the facts you have listed in the CV and paint a fuller picture of your experiences.
Think about these points:
5. It is not just about you:
Do not make the mistake of writing about why this job would be great for you and your career. Instead, what can you do which will help resolve any pain points the company has?
How does your experience and skills make you the best person for the job? What problem would hiring you solve? You need to do your research into the company to address this point. A good place to start is the job you are applying for - if there is a vacancy then there is a need within the company.
6. Highlighting the right experiences:
It will be tempting to list all the skills and experiences you have - but again, this can be too much like copying and pasting your CV on to the covering letter.
Take this time to specifically highlight the experiences which are needed for the role. The job description is a good way to identify what skills the company is looking for. Avoid using the exact same wording as the job description; describe these skills in your own words and use your examples to demonstrate that you have them.
Avoid saying things such as “I am good at public speaking”. Instead, consider, “When I was in [describe role] I had the opportunity to present to clients”.
One important point to remember is that your skills and experiences are not always related to your educational background. Think beyond this - to your internships, volunteer work or even your hobbies, as these can all demonstrate skills needed for the job you are applying for.
7. What if you are missing the experience?
The likelihood is, that when looking through all the criteria listed in the job specification, you might not have experience in all these areas. This does not mean you should not apply for the job!
Do not apologise if there are some skills which you do not yet have. Instead, emphasise the ones that you do and consider mentioning what areas you would like to grow in: “I am excited to develop my skills in [what you’ve done in the past] to [what you’re hoping to do next]”.
- We would not recommend applying for a job where you cannot meet any of the criteria.
- Highlighting your areas of growth cannot be the main focus of your covering letter - see point 5 above!
8. Show some stats:
Whilst the job you are applying for might not have anything to do with numbers, most hiring managers do like to see statistics of how you have had a measurable impact in your previous roles.
This does not always mean increasing the revenue of the company - you might have put together events or streamlined processes so things work more efficiently.
FINDING YOUR VOICE
9. Being professional does not mean being overly formal:
Whilst it is important to come across as professional and polite, do not exaggerate on the formalities. This can make you come across as robotic and insincere.
Even when applying for very corporate roles, there is usually room to express yourself in a conversational, approachable and genuine manner.
10. What is the company’s voice?
As mentioned in point 9, it is important to come across your “professional self”. Do not invent a persona that you think that the company is looking for - if you get the job, keeping up this persona will not be sustainable in the long run.
That said, whilst most companies appreciate individuality, they will want to know that their employees share the same values and will be able to fit and thrive in the culture they have created.
Again, you need to do your research - look through the company’s website and social media presence. This will give you a good indication of their culture, tone and language - so that you can mirror these in your covering letter.
11. Go easy on your enthusiasm:
Yes, you want to convey how much you want this role - but do not fill your covering letter with exclamation marks and stay away from expressing that “this will be the best thing that will happen to me” or “I am excitedly applying”.
THE FINISHING LINE
12. This is not your autobiography:
We get it - putting everything about you and your experiences in a CV and covering letter is tempting! You want the best possible chance to make it to the next round. It is best not to go over one page in length. It might not be easy to do this at first, so check out point 14 below. Coming across as concise but not abrupt is sometimes a difficult task and it takes practice.
13. You have come this far….
There is so much to consider in a covering letter….do not finish it with a throwaway comment at the end such as “I look forward to hearing from you” just because you have run out of steam.
Emphasise your enthusiasm for the company or how you would be a great fit for the position. You could say: “I’m passionate about [the company]’s mission and would love to bring my [add your skills here] to this position.”
You can also use the end of your letter to add important details (for example, you would be happy to relocate for this job).
ALL DONE! WHAT NEXT?
Editing does not mean just checking your spelling (which is a must!). Set aside your covering letter for a few hours or even a day or two. Come back to it and reread it - you will probably find that you can rephrase things differently.
If you have written too much, coming back to the draft with a fresh pair of eyes will help with cutting down the length.
15. Share with a friend
When you have looked through the same thing a number of times, your ability to spot mistakes will diminish. Have someone look over your draft - they may spot things you did not.
Asking someone else to read through your letter can also help with the content too. Give them some guidance: ask them whether the letter "sells" you as the best person for the job and, if they were the hiring manager, would reading this covering letter get them excited to meet the person who wrote it?
First impressions count - your CV and covering letter might be the first things a company sees about you. So do not rush your covering letter - consider it carefully as this might be the stepping stone for your future employer seeing the awesome person you are!
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