You've spent hours perfecting your CV and updating your LinkedIn profile so that when you see a job advert, you can apply in seconds at the click of a button.
However, if you’re not spending as much time on your cover letter, then you may be doing yourself and your efforts, a great disservice.
How you write is just as important as what you write!
In the same way that you would pay attention to your appearance before an interview, you should pay attention to the presentation of your cover letter:
- Make sure you use correct spellings, sentence and paragraph structure and get your grammar right
- Don’t forget, this is a letter, so set it out using addresses
- Ideally this letter will fit into one A4 page, unless otherwise stated in the recruitment materials
- Correctly greet and sign off your letter; if you start 'Dear Sir/Madam', end with 'Yours faithfully' - if you start 'Dear Mr X', end with 'Yours sincerely'
Once you've got the basics nailed down, here's how to structure your covering letter...
1. Introduce your skills
Read the job description and person specification to find out what skills the employer seeks in the ideal candidate.
Identify the three most important skills and write specific examples from your own experience to show you possess those skills. This will help to demonstrate that you understand the requirements of the jobs, but that you are well suited to it. Use the STAR technique to structure your examples (Situation, Task, Actions and Result), to ensure you are giving a rounded, tailored and concise example. A good resource to understand this technique is from Ofqual: Using STAR effectively in your job application and interviews.
Don’t forget that your examples can be drawn from any education, paid and unpaid work experience, extra-curricular activities, internships, apprenticeships, conferences or anywhere you have gained some professional experience or exposure. How you relate the experience to the required skill is the most important element.
2. Why this company?
This is the part of the cover letter where you are able to show your knowledge of the company, and flatter the employer. Research the employer; look at their website, check their social media, read their recruitment information, peruse their annual report and five year plan, talk to current or recent employees and see what’s written about them in the press. What impresses you from this research? Include two or three reasons why you would want to work for them following this research, and link this to your own experience or background (if possible), as this helps to prove how genuine your reasons are. You should keep this brief, but well informed and concise.
3. Why this role?
Read and understand the job role, and explain what motivates you about the job. It could be the knowledge you’d be using or learning, the day to day tasks, the chance to liaise with outside agencies or the skills you’d use. Try and link the elements that interest you about the role to your own experience, if possible. Consider your language here; you want to come across as enthusiastic but also professional.
Sitting down to write the cover letter can be daunting, and it can take time to create a well written, concise document. Try not to rush this process as it can be an important part of getting you through to interview. Good luck with your application!