What is a cover letter and what should it include?

What is a cover letter?

 A cover letter is a supporting document that you send alongside your CV when you apply for a job. Rather than talking about the specific qualifications and work experience that you have. This is the chance to highlight what personal traits, interests, and characteristics make you a good fit for a role.

It’s also a great opportunity to reach out and add a human touch during what can be a fairly robotic process. This can be really important in roles where you know you’re going to face a lot of competition and want to stand out from the crowd.

The best way to structure a cover letter

 At the core of any good cover letter is a solid and easy-to-read structure. No matter what kind of industry you’re applying to, you need to address certain core themes in order for a cover letter to flow and have the impact you want.

The most important elements to include are:

Your contact details

It’s important to remember that this is a section for contact information rather than personal details. While you’ll need to include your name and current profession, there’s no need to add things like your location, age, or any kind of personal (non-professional) contact details.

You should include your full name, phone number, and professional email address, and if you have a well-maintained LinkedIn profile relevant to your professional background, you may include the link.

There’s no need to include your home address or links to personal social media profiles unless they are professionally focused or relevant to the job.

The hirer’s details

Where possible, clearly mark your cover letter as being addressed to the hiring manager. Include all of the details you have to hand of the manager and the company you’re applying to.

Begin by addressing the hiring manager by their full name. If you’re unsure of the gender or formal title, use a generic salutation such as “Dear Hiring Manager.”

Adding the date on which you’re submitting your application helps to create a timeline for the hiring manager and indicates your promptness in responding to the job posting.

The opening

The first paragraph is your opportunity to grab the hiring manager’s attention. You should make this part as specific to the role as possible.

Clearly state the name of the company you’re applying to. This emphasises your attention to detail and will ensure that your application is correctly routed.

Briefly mention where you found the job posting, and try to include concrete examples of where you’ve succeeded in a similar industry or position in the past.

Keep the opening paragraph concise, engaging, and tailored to the specific job and company you’re applying to.

The main body

The main body of your cover letter is your opportunity to expand on your qualifications and experiences and emphasise your suitability for the role.

Mention what attracted you to the position and how it aligns with your career goals.

Analyse the job advertisement to identify the specific experiences and personal traits the company is looking for in a new hire, and tailor your letter to align with these requirements.

Incorporating keywords from the job description is the best way to ensure that you pass through the applicant tracking system (ATS).

The objective is to tick as many boxes as possible by providing truthful and valuable information about yourself.

A closing statement

The final paragraph of your cover letter is your opportunity to leave a lasting impression and prompt the employer to take the next step.

Begin by expressing thanks for considering your application.

Thank the employer for their time and attention.

Reiterate your enthusiasm for the position and the company, and clearly state your interest in moving to the next stage of the hiring process.

Remember, this is your last chance to make a compelling case for why you should be considered for the job, so make it impactful and action-oriented.

The sign off

The sign-off of your cover letter is a crucial element, as it leaves a final impression on the employer.

Use a formal and professional closing such as “Sincerely,” “Best Regards,” or “Yours Truly.”

If you have communicated with the employer during the application process, consider using a slightly more personalised closing, such as “Looking forward to the opportunity” or “Eagerly awaiting your response.”

Always include your full name below the closing to ensure a professional and complete sign-off.

 Additional tips
  •  Tone – Maintain a positive and polite tone throughout.
  • Length – The entire length of your cover letter should be roughly one size of A4 paper. If you find yourself writing more than that, see where you can refine it. Avoid the risk of overwhelming the reader with unnecessary details. Maintaining a concise cover letter ensures your information is impactful and easy to digest amidst a potentially vast pool of applications.
  • Avoid clichés – Steer clear of clichés and generic phrases. Instead, use concrete examples and specific language to showcase your qualifications and achievements.
  • Handwritten signature -If you’re sending a physical cover letter, leave space for a handwritten signature above your typed name. A handwritten signature adds a personal and human touch to your cover letter, creating a sense of authenticity and individuality. It can also help you stand out and show that you took the time to physically sign the document.
  • Proofread – Before finalising your cover letter, double-check for any spelling or grammatical errors.