A cover letter is essential. It provides the link between the proposed job and your ability to do it (as described in your CV). It’s a sales device to convince the reader that you’re worth interviewing. Without it, all the reader has are the bare facts presented in your CV.

You really don’t need a template. Remember that this is one of the most important parts of getting back into employment, so don’t disadvantage yourself by trying to reword someone else’s letter to describe your unique benefits. And most experienced readers can easily spot whether a template was used, which immediately discounts their view of your professional capabilities.

Writing your own letter is easier than you might think. Included below are the necessary elements of a cover letter. Use a simple business-type layout, and keep it to one page (with 12point Times New Roman or Arial/Helvetica font).

As this letter is a sales device—keep it readable, short, and to the point. This means the body of the letter is 15 lines maximum. Waffling on about how wonderful you are will be scanned over by the reader, and probably annoy them. Once this happens, you’ve failed and will not get an interview—game over. This is not an exercise for you to express how you feel  about yourself and the job—it’s a single page device to help your CV get you an interview with the reader.

And remember, everything in the cover letter needs to be supported by the facts in your CV—any spin is easily detected.

We recommend the following approach:

Address: If possible, find out and use the name of the intended reader. This will make it more personal, and help you rank above against other candidates. Otherwise, use “Dear Sir/Madam”

First paragraph: make it clear that you want to apply for job X. Basically, just say it outright. Many people miss this, and bury it somewhere a few lines later. The reader wants to know immediately what the purpose of the letter is. Also, include whatever reference number that was used in the job advertisement, to avoid any confusion. If you are not responding to an advertisement, then make reference to who or how you got their name, and why you’re writing to them.

Second paragraph: This is the body of the letter, and the place where you should convince the reader to grant you an interview. Key elements to this are: (1) state why you are well suited for the role and the benefit you will bring based on your experience and capabilities, (2) make specific reference to the requirements of the job description (the reader will be searching for these!), (3) make clear reference to your attached CV/resume (terminology is different in different countries: the UK uses the term “CV”; Australia uses “resume”; etc.—if you’re a foreigner, get this right or the reader will be turned off at the outset). And don’t just restate chunks from your CV—the cover letter is the link between the CV and the job, so you need to use the cover letter to say “why”, not “what”.

Closing paragraph: make it clear what the next step is—are you going to wait to hear from them, or will you be in touch? This needs to be clearly stated.

Check the whole thing for grammar and spelling errors. These will almost certainly have you application rejected immediately.

If you are using e-mail, include the cover letter in the body of the e-mail rather than attaching it as a document. The only attachment should be your CV (plus any specific attachments requested by the job ad).

If you are sending hard-copy, then good paper with inkjet or laser printing is recommended.

A concise, well-presented cover letter that clearly explains why you are an excellent candidate for the role will impress the reader and almost certainly land you an interview!

How to write a cover letter that actually works

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