How To Write A Cover Letter That Doesn't Suck

A cover letter is the first chance you get to impress your employer. It needs to be attention-grabbing, concise and to the point. Read through and find how to write a winning cover letter.

Nobody likes writing cover letters, but a tightly written, well-targeted cover letter is at least as important, if not more so, than a great resume. It's your chance to catch the recruiter's eye, to convince them to add your resume to the to-read pile. If you want a decent shot at your dream job, or even your "I just really need a job" job, then a great cover letter is non-negotiable.

When do you need to write a cover letter?

Basically, whenever you apply for a job. Especially right now, when businesses, graduates and workers are still navigating the impact of the pandemic. And, yes, you do need to write a tailored letter for each application. That doesn't mean starting from the beginning every time. Take the bits that work from previous cover letters as your starting point, then refine it so that it hits the sweet spot for this job.

Some automated systems won't allow you to attach a cover letter, but they'll almost always have a section for you to add comments. Treat this box as your opportunity to include a short, sharp version of a cover letter. Do whatever you can to stand out from the competition.

How to make a cover letter

Canva has made creating your resume a million times easier than it used to be. Depending on the template, you can also use it as a framework for your cover letter, giving the whole package a polished look. If you decide to go with a standard letter, make sure you lay it out professionally, and that your name and contact details are literally front and centre. Either way, convert your letter to PDF before you attach it to make sure that your formatting isn't thrown out of whack by incompatible software.

Do your research

The more informed you are, the better your cover letter will be. Before you get started, read up on the company. Check out their social media as well as the official website and look up some of their key employees on LinkedIn. Sleuthing is the best way to get a good sense of company culture and the kind of language that will resonate with whoever is doing the hiring. 

It's worth exploring recent media coverage as well. Adding a reference to relevant, positive reports shows that you're informed and engaged, and is a good way to be enthusiastic without appearing insincere

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How do you address a cover letter?

Unless you want to sound like a character from Bridgerton, avoid using To Whom It May Concern. Do your very best to find out the name of the person managing the recruitment process. Search LinkedIn, use any inside connections you have, and if all else fails, just pick up the phone, call the company and ask. It's honestly not as scary as it sounds. If you still can't find an actual name, Talent Acquisition Manager is a decent fall back.

Just like handwritten letters, the age of "Dear Sir" is over unless you're applying somewhere super trad. Hello is the opening of choice for most modern industries, from retail to tech, from hospitality to design and media.

How do you start a cover letter?

Hit them with your best shot. Don't waste your opening line on the standard "I am applying for…". Open with a strong statement about what you find exciting about the company and the job opening, and follow it up with your conviction that you're the ideal candidate for the job. If you're lucky enough to have a mate on the inside, especially if they've recommended you through internal channels, this is the place to drop their name. Connections can count for a lot, just make sure you phrase it appropriately, and give your friend a heads up before you hit send.

What's next?

Highlight the three things about you that make you their perfect match. Don't waste space restating your resume, they've already got it. But, you can use the middle section to highlight your most relevant experience, and link it to the top three skills the position calls for. If you're trying to break into a new field, or just getting started in the job market, show how your experience in a different kind of job, or volunteer position, prepared you to deal with similar scenarios and develop the required skills. Show them that you've thought this through, that you're informed, prepared and keen.

How to close the deal

Go out on a high note. Spice things up with a statement that shows your passion for the industry, then use your research to show that your enthusiasm for their company is backed up by knowledge. Never, ever throw shade – tell them why you think they're best in show, not why their competitors are not.

Three top tips:

  1. Be succinct and don't ramble. Make sure that everything you put in the letter earns its place.
  2. Humour can sometimes cut through, but the risk outweighs the possible benefits. Avoid it.
  3. Get somebody else to proofread your letter for both typos and feedback on the content.