10 tips to nail your cover letter

Your cover letter should grab attention, be full of useful information and be professional - a perfect summary of why you’re the best person for the job.

And, yes, you should always do a cover letter – whether it’s a formal document or a well-written email which you attach your CV to.

Keeping your letter short and succinct, while informative and compelling, is a challenge but it’s one worth taking on. Here are some handy hints to help you be the best you can be on paper.

Less is more

A cover letter should be about the length of one A4 document. No employer or recruiter has time for much more - keep it to around 2-3 paragraphs.

A spark of personality

Try to inject a little bit of personality into your cover letter to give the person reading it some insight to you beyond just words. It’s a tricky balancing act, being professional while personable in black and white text, but it can be done.

  • Refer to an attribute, skill or even pastime that shows how you fit in with the company culture. For instance, if you’re applying to a sports-based firm, then include that you play a sport.

  • Tailor your tone to the company. To find that tone read the job ad again, their website, blogs and other communication they may have posted online. Their language may completely serious and businesslike, or it could include a bit of fun. Follow suit in your letter.

Be strong and concise

A cover letter is no time for frivolous language and weak suggestions that your skills “might” be of use. Use clean, basic language and keep it strong. Do you consider yourself “quite experienced”? Change that to “experienced”.

Check you’ve got the right person

... And then check again. One surefire way to have your CV thrown out is getting the name of the person you’re applying to wrong. How do you avoid this?

  • If the person’s name is not obviously mentioned in the job advertisement, then do a bit of background research – phone the company if you have to - and get this very important detail right.

  • If you’re unable to call the company, then launch an in-depth online research project to find out.

  • Once you’ve found or been told the person’s name, ensure you have their gender right. Few situations would be as embarrassing as addressing your letter to “Mr Adrian Smith” when it should have been “Ms Adrienne Smith”.

Then, check you’ve got the right job

If you’ve been farming out cover letters and did a bit of sneaky copy and paste from a previous one, make sure you are referring to the right job.

Don’t send the same letter to everyone

While a certain amount of copy and pasting between cover letters is acceptable, a lot of it is not. The point of the letter is to state your case and introduce your reasons for being the best candidate for this specific job.

Take the time to tailor each cover letter to the position, the employer and to the key set of skills that you’re advertising. A few minutes extra spent on this may just make all the difference.

Be company-specific

Including references to the company you’re applying to shows you’ve done your research. You could refer to a project that the company has completed, a detail about the company’s reputation, its field or community, or something specific that drew you to apply for the job with them.

Don’t write a shortened CV

Emphasising what you can bring to the company is key, and your skills and history are part of that. Naming roles, positions or achievements from your past can be a good addition to your cover letter, but don’t go overboard and include your entire work history.  Keep that for your CV.

“Call me”

At the end of your letter, include a call to action. This may be:

  • I look forward to discussing this position further

  • I look forward to hearing from you

... And don’t forget your contact details.

Spell check

Check your spelling, people. One missing, or misplaced comma may be the difference between a new job and no new job.