Writing the ideal cover letter can be hard, and you’ll need to tailor each one you pen to suit the vacancy you’re applying for. There are, however, certain things you’ll need to include whatever the position you’re chasing, so it’s always worth having a template you can structure each letter around.
Here’s a handy guide to penning the perfect cover letter, with some warnings about the pitfalls you’ll need to avoid.
If you can find a named contact to address your letter too, great, but always keep things formal by addressing them as Mr or Ms. If you don’t have a name then simply start with ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ – it might sound terribly old-fashioned but it’s still the done thing.
Next, use your opening paragraph to really sell yourself to them. Introduce yourself by name and tell them which role it is you’re applying for, because HR teams are often looking to fill multiple vacancies at any given time. In this opening salvo you should also tell them where you saw the position advertised, why you were attracted to the role and why you would be their ideal candidate. You could also mention your undergraduate or postgraduate degrees, so they know you’re well qualified.
Now you’re into the main section of the cover letter, so take two to three short paragraphs to explain why you’re the right fit. In the first of these paragraphs you should reiterate why you want to work for this particular company, in this particular role. You can never sound too enthusiastic, and should prove that you’ve done your research and know all there is to about the company and the job.
In subsequent paragraphs you need to set out your qualifications, your skills and your experience. Be as specific as you can, taking each of the key criteria listed in the job ad and referring them back to your own experiences and achievements. They want concrete proof that you tick all the boxes.
Take a final paragraph to briefly summarise why you are the best candidate for the job and thank them for the time (you hope) they’ve spent reading your letter from beginning to end. Also include a call to action, offering to supply examples of your work or saying that you hope to hear from them soon. Round off your letter with a polite ‘Kind regards’ or ‘Many thanks’ and your name.
Dos and Don’ts
Always keep your cover letter to a page or under, because attention spans are short and anything more might mean they switch off. Also try and address all the key specifications set out in the advert you saw, and lay it on thick when it comes to explaining how much you want to work for this particular company.
While you might be a creative individual, avoid the pitfall of trying to jazz up your cover letter by using colours or unusual fonts. These make it harder to read and more likely a recruiter will just put it on the scrap heap. Also remember not to make it entirely about you and what you want from the role. Recruiters and companies want to know you’re willing to give them your all and aren’t simply on the take. Flatter them and you cannot fail.
Lizzie Exton writes for Inspiring Interns, a graduate recruitment agency based in London.