Writing a winning cover letter

Whether you’re leaving your current job, out of work and looking to get back in the game or about to make that first step into the world of work, writing a winning cover letter is a key tool in the jungle that is job hunting.

A fantastic CV will open a door (see here for tips on that) but it’s a great cover letter that grabs you that all important interview. Most job openings have dozens, even hundreds of applicants, and whoever’s processing them will have an inbox full of similar looking CVs. So we’ve put together a few tips to help yours grab the attention it deserves.

Do your research
Whatever the business is, make sure to do a bit of digging before you apply. If it’s a pub, look into the sort of drinks they stock. Do they serve food? If it’s a marketing company, look at the sort of things they sell. How successful are they?

If you’re going through a recruitment agency, speak to your rep and get some information from them about the sort of thing the company looks for.

Also, look at their website (if they have one) and pick up on the tone and language they use. Is it formal, friendly, business like? Try and reflect that when you’re writing, make it seem like you would fit in.

Personalise it
Don’t just have a standard cover letter that you wheel out with all CVs. Employers will really appreciate it if they feel you’ve gone through the effort of writing the letter just for them. Using the research you’ve already done (see above) make reference to their business and why your skill set is appropriate for them. Some of your skills will be better suited to certain roles, so highlight them, use examples of your achievements and how they respond to the position.

Don’t make it too long
Your cover letter should really just be a highlights reel of your CV. So don’t make it too long, don’t waffle, keep it precise (always remembering to try and use the appropriate tone). Half a typed page of A4 in size 12 font is plenty enough.

Remember that everyone writes ‘I’m hard working, I’m time conscious, I work well individually and with others’ so unless you’ve got something that backs that up – an award or something similar – then leave that out. No-one’s going to write ‘I’m lazy, late and passive aggressive’, so there’s no point writing something that can’t be proven.

Structuring the thing
Before you start writing it, jot down each point you want to make and then structure it out accordingly (bearing in mind the below points about length and brevity).

It should go roughly like this:
Dear Sir/Madam,
This is why I’m writing to you.
This is a bit about me and what I’m currently doing or have been doing.
This is why I’m great and you should hire me.
I hope to hear from you soon,
Yours faithfully (or yours sincerely, kind regards, many thanks)
You.

Do not put kisses or hugs. Kisses and hugs are never ok.

Check it
Check it once, twice, three times. If you’ve got time put it away for an hour or so once it’s written, then go over it with fresh eyes and look out for any mistakes, clunky phrases or repetitions.

Simple rules to remember:

  • If you don’t know the name of the recipient, write ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ and end it with ‘Yours faithfully’. If you do the know their name end the letter ‘Yours sincerely’.
  • If it feels more appropriate, other available endings are fine. These can include ‘many thanks, best wishes, all the best.’
  • Remember the difference between they’re, their and there, your and you’re and all other tricky apostrophe-based word combos.

If you follow all of these this should go a long way to winning you that all important interview.

Don’t hang about, get prepping now by reading our guide on interview tips.

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