How do I write a cover letter?

Oh, the cover letter. It’s a similar beast to the CV, just with a different head. Don’t treat it like wrapping paper – remember it’s the first thing potential employers see, so it needs to be impressive! Here are Career Camel’s top tips to writing a fantastic one.

What not to do

It sounds obvious but don’t plagiarise other people’s work! Employers do check this on the internet and it doesn’t make you look good. Don’t just put a sentence on your cover letter asking them to consider you for the job and read your CV – you may as well have not bothered writing a “cover letter” in the first place. Be careful about trying to be funny or being too informal, as potential employers may not share your sense of humour. And for goodness’ sake tailor your cover letter to each position you’re applying for. An employer can smell a standard letter from a mile off, and it won’t convince them that you’re really interested in the job. And check your facts! Don’t get the recipient’s name wrong or make up where you saw the advert. Type it so they can’t be put off by your handwriting and as you would with any document, proofread it.

What it is

It’s easy to forget what a cover letter actually is. It’s not a long, drawn-out copy of your CV. It’s your chance to make a good first impression on your employer. At the end of the day it doesn’t really matter what you’re like in real life at this stage of your application, because if you’re not good enough on paper, they’ll never meet you anyway. Whoever reads your cover letter will form judgments about you and whether you’re suitable for the job. Use the space wisely and don’t just repeat information on your CV – pick out what your strengths are, specific things you’ve done which prove you’re capable and any relevant experience which you feel you could expand on. This is the way you sell yourself.

Structure

All you want is one page of A4, and no more than four paragraphs on it. Structure it in three parts: the first to set the scene as to why you are writing, the second (two paragraphs) should be used to provide evidence and examples as to why you are both suitable for and unique to the position. The final section should include a call to action, for example “I look forward to hearing from you” or “I hope you will consider me for interview”. Make sure you proofread it carefully to ensure it comes across as positive and has communicated your main points. Give it to somebody else too – maybe someone who you trust but who doesn’t know you extremely well – so they can give you an honest opinion on how you sound in the letter.

Before you know it, you’ll be invited to an interview. Just make sure you keep a copy of your cover letter so you remember what you said, and don’t get caught out!