Cover letters are your first chance to get noticed. Make sure yours is tailored to the exact job on offer.
Plenty of recruiters and employers still do read cover letters, says Andrew Morris, director at Robert Half. But tailor it for the 21st century so that your cover letter gets noticed.
The purpose of a cover letter is to get a recruiter or employer to look at your resume, says Peter Noblet, senior regional director at Hays. But keep it simple. Less is more, especially in the era of email applications.
The purpose of a cover letter is to get a recruiter or employer to look at your resume, says Peter Noblet, senior regional director at Hays.
- Remember every cover letter is important. It’s too easy in the world we live to apply for dozens of jobs through SEEK, says Noblet. Make sure, however, that every single cover letter is individualised for the job in question. If your cover letter nails it you’re going to stand out to an employer. The process of tailoring your cover letter also makes you think about the job and if it is really the right role for you.
- Concentrate on two or three key words from the job advertisement. Make sure you match your capabilities against each word in a separate bullet point. Be succinct and give relevant examples, says Noblet. If, for example, the advertisement mentions SEO skills you could highlight this with a bullet point. Weave a variety of key SEO skills into that point such as your technical optimisation skills, social media marketing skills, link building expertise, your understanding of information architecture, and content marketing skills. But keep it brief. You just want to grab the reader’s attention for now.
- Explain why you’re interested in the job. Explain in a sentence why you want this particular job. “Pique the reader’s interest” says Noblet. Explain very specifically what it is that makes this the job for you. It may, for example, be that it will use your fabulous problem solving skills. Or it allows you to use both your creative and research skills. Tie it back to how your skills will benefit the organisation.
- Summarise with your unique selling point (USP). What’s different about you? asks Noblet. Explain why you’re the best fit for this particular role and how your USP fits. Make sure you understand what the organisation wants. If your standard USP concentrates on handling big projects single-handedly, but the job involves brainstorming with a team you might want to change the wording slightly. Or if the organisation is looking for innovators, tailor your USP in the cover letter to your innovation credentials. Every part of your cover letter needs to be tailored to the job advert.
Finally, review your cover letter and ask yourself: “would I read this person’s resume?”
How to write a cover letter
Each job application should be tailored when you’re applying to show you are the right person for this job. To ensure your cover letter/email introduction isn’t ignored go through the job description and underline the keywords used to describe the skills, training and experience required. Search through your own career history for specific examples of how you can demonstrate you have what the employer is looking for.
For example the advertisement might say: "This position requires an outgoing person with demonstrated capacity to work in a team". The keywords here are "outgoing", "demonstrated" and "team". Show you meet these essential criteria to increase your chances of an interview.
A cover letter should not be a summary of your CV. Your cover letter should complement your CV by highlighting the most relevant aspects relating to the position. We suggest making a draft, then when you are satisfied that it reads well ask a friend to review it.
Tips for writing a great cover letter
Make sure it has a clear subject link:
- You must send to a person; NEVER use 'Dear Sir or Madam'
- The job title
- The reference number
- Your name
Keep it on one page
Be clear, focused on the point of the cover letter or email, list skills and experience with examples of why you are the right person for the company.
Never send a standard cover letter. You must show that you can add to the role in a way that another person can't.
Cover letter checklist
- You’ve tailored it to every specific application
- It’s on one page
- Its addressed to a specific individual
- It creates an action plan for specific future contact
- Give it to a friend or someone in your network to review
Related career advice
• CV tips
• CV structure and content