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How to Write a Winning Cover Letter

Posted by: Peter Jackson

Before a phone interview, certainly before any face to face interviews, and even all the way back before an employer sees your CV, they will encounter your Cover Letter.

The Cover Letter nowadays, whether you apply to a company yourself of through a recruitment agency such as WRS, is essentially the new Page One of your CV. A great Cover Letter will somehow give the company’s hirer a mouth-watering taste of you as a potential employee; and it will demonstrate your awareness of the company. In other words, the Cover Letter needs a personalised personal touch, in a concise but precise manner.

So, how do you write a great cover letter? Fortunately, I’ve been fastidious enough in my work to write down notes every now and then that could help new candidates in just these sorts of situations, so here goes!

(Note, these tips are for writing your Cover Letter yourself, rather than a recruitment agency doing it for you.)

A Cover Letter is not a CV, so absolutely do not treat it like one. Not everything on your CV will relate to the job you’ve applied for; your Cover Letter must relate to the job you’re hoping to get an interview for. Focus on specific content in your CV (previous job experience, educational modules you undertook at university, voluntary commitments, extra-curricular work) that matches up to this job description. 

State your intent. Make it clear in the first paragraph which job you’re applying for, and why you want it. Advise that your CV is included.

(If you studied the techniques of persuasive writing when you were at school, now is the time to remember things like ending strongly, three point lists, and facts and stats to enhance the argument that you are worth the employer turning the page and looking at the first proper page of your CV!)

Familiarise yourself with as much as possible. First of all, the company. Visit their website, seek them out on all social media platforms. Find out how they make their business grow and what they’ve achieved in the last three years. If any of these things correlate with your previous experiences, then you’ve got a great sentence in the making that will stand out to your prospective employer.

Next, the competitors. Almost every company is in a league within their market. Who are they competing against? A short paragraph about how you can make this company stand out from X and Y by using this skill in this way, will again, be a golden ticket between the white pages.

The role and the skills. The job you’re applying to requires someone who can be independent in completing tasks, while working as part of a team in the initial preparation and delegation of a project; and furthermore, communication is absolutely vital at critical stages of the mid-week assessment. Well, remember that group project you worked on at University, or in a sports team committee, or when you helped organise a Sunday Funday with your local charity? Match your skills and experience to the role, in a short sentence or two. The time for elaboration will come later.

Be positive. You’re looking to develop personally and professionally, not just earn a few bucks for the weekend. Reinforce in your Cover Letter that you believe your skills and experiences that you’ve listed make you a qualified candidate for the job, and that you would relish the opportunity to further present yourself in a discussion or interview.

If the critical points that you want to include on your cover letter aren’t on the page, then only you know about them. Plan your Cover Letter before you write it. Jot down the important points; print off a copy of your CV and highlight everything you think could be important, and then cross-reference these points against the job description.

Now, lastly, a few notes on form:

  • Easy-to-read font. No employer is going to strain to read calligraphy when their time is so limited. If your cover letter looks ridiculous, it’s already in their shredder. Keep the font consistent. Arial, Calibri, Times, and Times New Roman are your best bets. Font size between 10 & 12.
  • Paragraph spaces. Blocks of text that are spaced out are generally considered far easier to read in the business world. The space makes each block feel more manageable.
  • Concision. Anything more than half a side of A4 is already too long. Short, punchy sentences. My experience in this capacity would make me suitable for part X of this job for the following reasons, 1,2,3. Catch my drift?
  • Proofread it at least twice. One great trick for editing is to print off the letter and read through it. Studies suggest we can spot typos easier on a physical copy than reading on the screen. If you can, ask a friend or relative, who will be reading your Cover Letter with fresh eyes. Their advice could be invaluable. 

Know who you’re addressing, if possible. Dr/Mr/Mrs/Miss/Ms. If you’re unsure, find the company phone number or email and get in touch with them. It pays to be on point with details. You’re demonstrating initiative.

Conclude with a complimentary close, and type your name. You can add a written signature too if you can scan it back onto your PC, or you’re planning to mail the Cover Letter.

Get writing!

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