The Twenty-Something Series: How to write a kick-ass cover letter

Want to know how to write a kick-ass cover letter? How to structure it? What to include? What not to do? I share my advice in this post.

Last week, I shared some advice on how to sell yourself in your CV, and mentioned that over the next few weeks I'll be posting more advice on how to get a job.

Part of the job application process is a cover letter.

Now this isn't always the case. Lots of online applications don't require even your CV - they just make you fill out a hundred and one boxes with that sort of information instead, and many won't require a cover letter. But many applications do need one, and it's not something to dismiss. 

Cover letters are every bit as important as your CV. In some cases, your cover letter could be the difference between potential employers even looking at your CV or just dismissing you as a potential candidate. They can go a long way towards making a good first impression for you and your application.

You can find lots of templates online, but today I'm going to share the structure I used. It's one I feel pretty confident with, seeing as I got a reasonable response rate from applications that included a cover letter.


[Date]Recruitment Manager[Company name]Job reference/role: [X]
Dear Sir/Madam, 
I am writing with regards to the [X] role as advertised [online/on your website/etc]. I have also attached my CV for your information. 
[This next paragraph should be a line or two about why you're interested in the role. You might say something about your current role, if you're already in a job and are looking to change it. If you're still in/fresh out of uni and applying to a grad scheme, instead introduce your education and degree and then explain why you're interested in the role - eg. due to graduate with a finance degree from X university and are looking for an accounting role.]  
[Next paragraph should mention your education or any relevant qualifications, if you haven't already done that. Feel free to bring up a couple of key modules you've done that might be relevant to the role.] 
[Now to show off what skills you have that are relevant to the role, and back them up with examples of your experience.] 
[And a little more skills and experience.] 
[Concluding paragraph time! Something like: 'I hope you will note from my CV that my experiences and work to date have allowed me to develop many skills that are applicable to this role.'] 
I look forward to hearing from you in the near future with regards to my application. 
Yours faithfully,[NAME][email address]

Tailor the cover letter to each job

Hopefully this goes without saying, but make sure you tailor the cover letter to each job. Not just the company name and job role, but make sure you read over the job description and tailor the skills and experiences you've mentioned in your cover letter to the job that cover letter is for.

When I was applying to jobs in my final year of uni, they were in several different areas. Some were a bit more financed based, some were pure IT and more programming focused, others were general technology, some were more like marketing. I had a cover letter structure then for each kind of role I was applying to, to make it easier for myself.

Make sure it's consistent with your CV

I say this both in terms of content and appearance. The same font and style will help it look more professional. And make sure that you don't talk about experiences and skills in your cover letter that aren't in your CV.

Your CV should cover everything: a cover letter is picking out a few key points

Your cover letter shouldn't go into great detail about all of your work experience, all of your skills, all your grades at school. Your CV should cover absolutely everything like that. In the cover letter, though, you're only picking out the key selling points - one or two experiences that are really particularly relevant to the job you're applying for. 

Keep it brief

On a similar note, the paragraphs in your cover letter shouldn't be too long. Stick to a couple of sentences per paragraph, max. 

I read several times online that your CV should be no longer than two sides of A4, but that was a rule I broke. Mine was like four to five pages because I had so many different experiences to put in, and since my 'experience' (ie. all the writing stuff) was so unconventional, I felt like I had to really make the most of it and show how and why it put me in a good position for the job I was applying to.

Your cover letter, however, shouldn't be longer than one page. One side of A4 and no more. The CV is doing most of the hard work: let it. 

Don't forget your personal details

Maybe it sounds stupid, or obvious, but make sure that when you sign off your cover letter you include your contact details - the same ones you've used on your CV. You don't need to bother with your address, but an email and phone number won't hurt. 

There you have it! All the key components to writing a cover letter. Do you have any advice to share on writing one? Share in the comments!

Also - I'll have a few more posts coming up in this series about getting a job, so if there's anything in particular you'd like to see just shout! You can also Tweet me @Reekles.

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