Careers

How to write a cover letter to land your dream job

Master cover letter writing with key tips to showcase your skills, charm hiring managers, and land an interview with a standout application.
Cecily Alston
9 February 2024
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Cover Letter Tips: Understanding the Purpose of a Cover Letter

Let’s talk about one of the most crucial weapons in your job-hunting kit — the cover letter. Whether you're a fresh-faced graduate or an experienced professional seeking a career change, the principles of effective cover letter writing remain the same. Here are some essential cover letter tips to ensure yours stands out in a crowded job market.

What is a Cover Letter?

Imagine a cover letter as your job application's handshake: it's one of the first impressions you make. Unlike the resume, which lists your qualifications, a cover letter gives you the space to tell your professional story, explain why you’re the perfect fit for the job, and demonstrate your personality.

6 Reasons Why You Should Write a Cover Letter

A great cover letter doesn't just recap your resume; it complements it. It's your chance to sing your praises, charm your future employer, and show that you are the one they've been searching for. Plus, being savvy with keywords can give you an advantage when navigating AI screening tools that companies use to filter applications.

A cover letter serves several important purposes:

  1. Showcases Your Communication Skills: It reflects your ability to communicate effectively, succinctly and professionally.

  2. Personalises Your Application: It explains why you’re specifically interested in the role and the company, and how your values align with theirs.

  3. Illustrates Fit: Through examples, it highlights how your experiences and skills make you an ideal candidate for the job.

  4. Navigates ATS Screening Systems: Using keywords from a job description will help your application receive a high skill-match score – giving your application a head start.

  5. Breaks the Ice in Interviews: A cover letter can also serve as a conversational anchor in interviews. Interviewers often refer to your cover letter for talking points, which can help break the ice. For example, if you mention a unique project or role, the interviewer might ask you to elaborate on this experience, giving you a perfect opening to impress.

  6. Reference Point: During the interview, you can refer to your cover letter to reinforce your suitability. This can be particularly helpful in aligning your interview responses with what the employer has already found appealing in your application.

 

Before You Start Writing

Research the Company

Don’t make the rookie mistake of sending identical cover letters to various employers – to stand out you need to make it personal. Instead, dedicate one evening to customising your cover letter for each position – I know it takes time, but it will give you a competitive advantage, particularly at the interview stage.

Understand the company’s mission, culture, and recent achievements, browse their social media pages, and any recent news articles – these are gold mines of information.

Analyse the Job Description

Job descriptions are more than just a list of responsibilities. They are a treasure trove of keywords and required skills that can guide your cover letter.

Highlighting these keywords not only helps your resume pass the Applicant Tracking System (ATS) but also shows the hiring manager that you're speaking their language and your abilities match what they’re looking for – a perfect start!

 

How to Write a Cover Letter: Tips for success

Opening Paragraph

Start with a bang! Introduce yourself and explain why you are writing. For instance, "I am Jane Doe, a recent computer science graduate and a passionate software developer, eager to bring my skills to [Company Name]'s innovative projects.".

Middle Paragraph(s)

This is where you shine. Keep this section to 1-3 concise paragraphs and do not just regurgitate your resume. Instead, tell a story about how you used your skills. For example, for a Computer Science Graduate applying to Internship, mention specific projects. For example, "At university, I developed an app that organised student resources, improving accessibility by 40%. I believe this aligns seamlessly with [Company’s] commitment to customer experience innovations."

Highlighting cultural fit is equally crucial. If the company values community involvement, weave in your volunteer experience at coding bootcamps or local hackathons – you get the idea.

Closing Paragraph

Reaffirm your enthusiasm for the role. Mention that you would love the opportunity to discuss how you can contribute to the team and politely request an interview. Always thank the reader for their time and consideration.

 

Writing Style & Tone

Tone

Keep it professional but personal. You want to sound like a living, breathing human being, not a robot. Adjust your tone to match the company's vibe. For instance, a startup might appreciate a more relaxed, witty tone, while a law firm might prefer a formal one.

Clarity and Brevity

Be concise. Avoid overly complex sentences and jargon that might confuse the reader. Remember, clear and direct communication is often the most impactful.

Personalisation

Avoid the generic trap at all costs – so be mindful when using ChatGPT and other generative AI writing tools. Tailor your cover letter for each job application. A personalised letter shows you care about the job, that you are resourceful and proactive, qualities employers crave.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

We've all been there — sending out dozens of applications and using the same tired lines. However, vague statements, a focus on self rather than how you can help the company, and neglecting to proofread could sink your chances before you even get to the interview stage. Also - and this is an important one - keep an eye on the balance of "I" usage; it's about them as much as it is about you.

 

Advanced Cover Letter Tips

Leveraging Keywords

When reading through the job description, make a list of critical skills and phrases that are repeatedly emphasised. For instance, if you’re applying for a digital marketing position and notice repeated mentions of “SEO expertise” and “content creation,” you’ll want to weave these terms into your cover letter strategically.

Example: Instead of saying, "I have experience with digital marketing tools," you could specify, "In my previous role, I initiated and led an SEO-focused content campaign that increased organic traffic by 20% in three months." This focuses the reader on the value of your skills.

Telling a Story

Craft a narrative that not only highlights your skills but also shows how you’ve applied them in real-world situations. This method transforms your cover letter from a list of skills into a compelling story that illustrates your professional journey.

Example: Suppose you’re a software developer. Instead of merely stating your technical skills, which they could get from your resume, you might say, "At Company XYZ, I developed a software solution using [specific programming tools] that streamlined our client’s data processing, reducing errors by 15% and improving our project delivery time by 25%. My approach integrated agile workflows, significantly enhancing product development efficiency.".

 

Addressing Potential Red Flags

Potential red flags might include employment gaps, frequent job changes, or lack of direct experience. However, each of these can be addressed tactfully within your cover letter to turn a potential negative into a positive.

Employment Gaps

Example: "I took a two-year break from my professional career to care for a family member. During that time, I kept my skills sharp by completing online courses in data analysis and participating in a virtual internship with a fintech startup. This period helped me develop not only technical skills but also soft skills such as time management and remote collaboration, which I am eager to bring to your team.".

Frequent Job Changes

Example: "My resume may show several short-term positions, and while I understand the concerns this may raise, each role has been a stepping stone towards refining my project management skills. These experiences have exposed me to diverse environments, enhancing my adaptability and efficiency. At [Company’s Name], I see a tremendous opportunity to apply my diverse skill set and stability in a dynamic and innovative team environment.".

Lack of Direct Experience

Example: "While I have not worked in a traditional marketing role, my experiences in customer service have equipped me with a unique perspective on user engagement and brand loyalty. By leveraging these insights, I successfully redesigned our customer feedback strategies at [Previous Company], increasing customer satisfaction ratings by 30%. I am keen to apply this unconventional approach to drive successful marketing campaigns at [Company’s Name].".

By mentioning any potential red flags, you demonstrate that you are proactive about overcoming obstacles and showcasing your growth mindset—a highly desirable trait in any candidate.

Now, armed with these detailed examples and strategies, you can craft a cover letter that truly represents your skills, experiences, and the unique value you bring to potential employers. Remember, a cover letter is more than just a formality—it's your pitch to be a part of a company you're passionate about. Use it wisely!

 

Finalising Your Cover Letter

Before you hit send, double-check your cover letter, take the time to review every detail meticulously. This final check can significantly impact the first impression you make. Here are the steps to ensure everything is in order:

Final Checklist

Here are the steps to ensure everything is in order:

  1. Contact Information: Make sure your contact information is correct and professional.

  2. Date: The date should reflect the day you send the application. Always check this twice to ensure it’s updated.

  3. Customised Greeting: If you know the hiring manager's name, address the letter directly to them using "Dear Mr./Ms. [Last Name]". However, if you do not know the hiring manager’s name, here's what you can do:

  • Research: First, try to find out the name by looking at the company’s website, LinkedIn, or even calling the company's reception to ask who the application should be addressed to.
  • Generic Titles: If your efforts don’t reveal a name, opt for a generic yet professional greeting such as “Dear Hiring Manager,”, “Dear [Team Name] Team,” e.g., “Dear Customer Service Team,” or “To Whom It May Concern,” (though this is quite formal and somewhat outdated).
  1. Content Review: Go over the content of your cover letter again. Ensure that it flows well, is free of typos, and grammatically correct. Use specific examples as discussed, and make sure your letter conveys enthusiasm and professionalism.

  2. Professional Closing: Close your letter formally with phrases like “Sincerely,” “Best regards,” or “Respectfully,” followed by your name.

  3. Signature: If you are sending a hard copy, leave space for your handwritten signature above your typed name. For emails, a typed name will suffice.

Getting Feedback

After self-review, get someone else to read your cover letter. A second pair of eyes can catch mistakes you might have missed and provide feedback that could make your letter stronger. Choose someone who can be impartial and understands the job you are applying for — ideally a mentor, career coach, or a trusted colleague.

 

Conclusion

Cover letters are your first opportunity to connect with a potential employer on a personal level. They set the tone for your application and can distinguish you from hundreds of other candidates. Remember, the goal is not just to show that you can do the job, but that you are the best fit for their team and culture.

This process take time but it's worth it when you land that dream job. So take these tips, tailor your approach, and start your journey to success. Good luck!

 

Additional Resources

For further inspiration and guidance, here are some resources to explore:

  • Sample Cover Letters: Look at examples from HubSpot to understand different styles and formats.
  • Proofreading Tools: Online services like Grammarly or Hemingway Editor can help polish your cover letter before submission.

With these tools and tips, you're well on your way to crafting a cover letter that not only highlights your qualifications but also showcases your personality and professional readiness.

Now, it’s your turn to take these insights and transform them into a powerful cover letter that opens doors. Dive in, personalise, and let your true self shine through – make it count!