Cover letters can make or break your application. It’s your one opportunity to speak directly to employers as an actual human, rather than a list of attributes. But to get noticed, you need to sell yourself just right (without sounding like an ass). This short guide shows you exactly how to write and structure a cover letter that employers actually enjoy reading.
Before you start
Remember that you’re writing to a person you’ll likely work with, and they have a ton of cover letters to read. Have a deep think about the following before you start writing:
A cover letter should not just repeat your CV. It’s an opportunity to intelligently demonstrate you’ve read and understood the needs of the position, and sell yourself as the perfect solution. Don’t injure your pitch by throwing in a ton of irrelevant details, distracting from the most important points. Stay focused on what you absolutely need to get across.
No one wants to read a rambling, unstructured account of your entire professional back story. Think carefully about what you want to say in each paragraph and make them flow fluidly on from each other. You’re building a persuasive argument piece by piece – nothing should jar or appear out of context.
You don’t want to bore or overwhelm your reader. Try and keep your cover letter as succinct and punchy as possible, guiding them to the essentials. Be brutal with your editing: if you read back a paragraph that doesn’t really say anything new or relevant, cut it.
This can actually make or break your application. You need to simultaneously communicate “I am professional” and “I am an emotionally developed human with personality”. Some people use a starch-stiff impersonal tone, and others are carelessly casual to the point of sounding uninterested. As a rule, be confident but humble: don’t give yourself superpowers, abuse superlatives or use an aggressively direct tone. Your writing alone can demonstrate your charm – you shouldn’t have to state it.
Always check you’ve used non-gendered language. Don’t start your cover letter with “dear sir” or just refer to male subjects when giving examples. It shouts that you have absolutely no awareness of the values of the cool company you’re applying to (and makes you look like a dinosaur). It goes without saying, but always carefully re-read everything before submission; typos are so disappointing to read.
How to structure a cover letter
Try and find the name of the mysterious person behind the job ad to make your cover letter more personal. Even if you pick the wrong person from the company, it demonstrates basic research skills and intuition.
Your first paragraph is always your most important. Set the scene, highlighting your motivations and what matters most about you. You need to grab their attention and save this space for your most convincing points. Try and keep it to two sentences.
This is where you go into more details about your most relevant skills and experience. Frame your paragraph around the key requirements for the job, making sure you satisfy the most critical.
Add a detail or observation about the company to promote additional skills you could bring to the role. It has a bonus effect of showing you’re actively engaged with their concept and are thinking about how you would fit in.
Provide at least three links to your work, showcasing your breadth, diversity and any relevant niche experience. A single link to an online portfolio is also a great alternative – just make sure the work you want your recruiter to see is easy to find.
6. Sign off
End on a positive note reinforcing your unique value propositions and motivations. Be charming, be human, show you’re generally a great person to work with.
Now, over to you!
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