Cover letter writing Masterclass

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Cover Letter Guide

Most job applications provide the opportunity to include a cover letter – and some require one as part of the process. A well-written, tailored cover letter will get you noticed, so it’s important to take time to get it right. In this guide we share advice from recruitment and career experts.

What’s in the guide?

Our guide explores the following:
1. Why cover letters are important
2. Content and Length
3. What to include
4. What not to include
5. Tips for writing a cover letter if changing sectors
6. Final tips

Why cover letters are important

A lot of employers seek a cover letter, as they’re a good way to get a sense of you as a person. They convey more character than a very factual CV.

They allow you to introduce yourself and to highlight your motivations, aspirations and what makes you a unique fit for the role. You can elaborate on specific experiences, skills or achievements and emphasise things you would like the employer to know.

It’s crucial to write a specific cover letter for the role you’re applying for. A generic letter is not appropriate in this situation – but a well-crafted letter can set you apart from other applicants. It’s all about demonstrating personality, passion and an understanding of the role.

Content & Length

Keep your cover letter under one A4 page in length. A shorter letter is easier to read, while a recruiter will potentially skim through longer text.

The aim is to highlight key points from your CV, not to supply a comprehensive work history to an employer.

Split your cover letter into 4-5 paragraphs:

  • An introductory paragraph
  • 2-3 paragraphs to talk about how you are suited to the job
  • A paragraph to wrap up your letter and convey your enthusiasm for the role.

It helps to make a plan. Create a bullet point list of everything you want to include, and start writing from there.

What to include

Your cover letter should include (example at the end of this guide):

1.  A header listing your name, address, mobile number and email address.

2. The company name and address

3. Dear Sir/Madam – but if you can find out the name of the person recruiting, use that.

4. Subject line: Application for [title of job]. Include a reference number if there is one.

5. Paragraph 1: Explain your interest in the role as you have the necessary industry specific experience or transferable skills. Briefly explain how you think you could be of benefit to the employer.

6. Paragraph 2: Outline your relevant experience for the role and examples of your success. Refer to your responsibilities and achievements and link them to those in the job description.

7. Paragraph 3: Summarise any education or technical qualities for the role or other parts of your career experience, such as softer people skills suitable for the role.

8. Paragraph 4: Explain why you wish to apply to work for the company. Make sure you do some research to show you have gone the extra mile. State that you would welcome the opportunity to be interviewed and that you look forward to meeting them.

9. Sign-off: Yours Sincerely if you know the name; Yours Faithfully if it is Sir or Madam

What not to include

There are a few things you should avoid including in your cover letter.

1. Putting yourself first. Don’t make reference to how company benefits will help you. Talking about enjoying free gym membership or a short commute could make it seem you’re interested in the role for the wrong reasons. Don’t state salary expectations on the same basis.

2. Negativity. Avoid making any negative comments about yourself, a past job or the recruitment process. A cover letter should be confident and positive.

3. Irrelevant characteristics. Your age, marital status, religion, ability/disability, sexual orientation etc. should have no influence on whether you will suit the role, so don’t reference these.

4. Anything unprofessional. It’s very common for people to have a non-professional email address. If your email is a nickname, set up a new, more formal address for job applications, to avoid giving the wrong impression.

5. Generic content. You should tailor every letter to the role you’re applying for. Recruiters can easily spot a template letter and will usually reject them.

Writing a cover letter if you are changing sectors

When moving to a different industry or sector, your cover letter is crucial in emphasising the transferable skills and your passion for the new field.

Start by explaining why you’re shifting industries. Express genuine interest in the new field, how your background and skills align, and your passion for making an impact.

Emphasise your ability to adapt, learn, and quickly grasp new concepts. Provide previous examples where you successfully adapted to new situations or learned new skills.

Make sure you’ve researched the industry thoroughly to understand its requirements. It can help to talk to people who work in that field – and mention what you learn in the letter.

It can also help to proactively address any concerns you think the hiring manager might have about your transition. Highlight how your perspective from a different sector could bring fresh ideas and problem-solving approaches.

Final tips

A few final points to consider in writing a cover letter:

  • There are lots of examples of good cover letters online. Take time to review these and take note of what you like and dislike about them.
  • Bear in mind that some recruiters will read your cover letter before your CV. The cover letter is the ‘bait’ to get their interest and can hugely increase the chances of your CV even being read.
  • Mistakes are a big no-no in your letter. Make sure you spell check it carefully, and ideally get someone else to read it. Take extra care with spelling names, including the company name.
  • Keep the job description beside you, and check how relevant the details in your letter are. Use the same terms to describe your skills and experience as listed in the job information.
  • Only lead with your strongest examples – otherwise they can get lost in a sea of information.
  • Bear in mind that the perfect cover letter won’t always be enough. If other candidates more clearly match what the role requires, they will be prioritised. Job hunting takes time, so stay positive. Good luck!

Example below:

Cover Letter

Further reading:

How to write a compelling cover letter
Cover letters first impressions count
How to draft a perfect return to work cover letter

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