What is a cover letter and why is it important?

In today’s competitive job market, the cover letter remains an essential element of the application process. It is a snapshot of your qualifications, accomplishments, and personality, providing hiring managers with valuable information beyond your resume.

While some argue its demise, a poll by the Office of Career Education at Arcadia University in 2022 found that 72% of recruiters expect cover letters even if they are optional, and 77% prefer candidates who submit a cover letter.

 More importantly, 83% of recruiters said a cover letter could help you get a job interview even if the resume isn’t good enough.

Moreover, a well-crafted cover letter demonstrates your communication skills, sets you apart from other candidates, and allows you to explain gaps or career changes. So, whether required or not, including a cover letter is crucial for making a strong impression and increasing your chances of securing an interview.

What is a cover letter?

A cover letter is a document typically submitted alongside a resume as part of a job application. It is a three- to four-paragraph memo that provides an opportunity for applicants to explain their interest in the job and company and highlight their skills, experience, and achievements relevant to the position they seek.

A well-written cover letter goes beyond the information in the resume, allowing applicants to delve into more detail about their professional career and demonstrate their fit for the role and company.

By effectively showcasing their qualifications, a cover letter aims to make a positive impression on potential employers and set applicants apart from other candidates.

How to write a cover letter

Creating an effective cover letter will increase your chances of getting an interview with a hiring manager. Here are 10 tips to help you make the most of your efforts:

1. Address the contact mentioned in the job advert

When addressing your cover letter, ensure it is received by the correct person – ideally using the hiring manager’s name. When you are unable to find out the hiring manager’s name, it is still crucial to address your cover letter appropriately.

Instead of using “To whom it may concern,” which can sound impersonal, there are several alternatives you can use to make your salutation more specific and professional.

Here are some examples of how to address a cover letter if you don’t know the recipient’s name:

  • “Dear [Company Name] Hiring Manager”
  • “Dear [Department Name] Hiring Manager”
  • “Dear Hiring Manager”
  • “Dear Human Resources Manager”
  • “Dear [Company Name] HR Department”

When you use these greetings, you avoid assuming someone’s gender or marital status and maintain a professional tone. It is recommended to be as specific as possible, such as addressing the hiring manager for a particular department or using the company’s name in the salutation.

2. Outline your current job situation and why you want to move on  don’t be negative

If you are currently employed, explain the reasons for your interest in the new role in the cover letter, whether that be career progression, personal interests, or even that you are just looking for a change.

If you are between jobs or have previous employment gaps on your resume, use the cover letter to highlight the reasons for your interest, but also ensure you are upfront as to why you have been out of employment previously.

3. Show you’ve done your research

In a cover letter, it is beneficial to demonstrate an understanding of the company’s history and its area of business. Doing so can showcase your interest in the position and alignment with the company’s goals and values.

Researching the company’s history and area of business allows you to tailor your cover letter to the specific organisation and highlight how your skills and experiences align with their needs.

When you demonstrate an understanding of the company’s history and area of business, it shows the hiring manager that you have taken the time to research and are genuinely interested in the role. It also helps you craft a more targeted and personalised cover letter, making a stronger impression on the hiring manager.

However, it’s important to strike a balance. You don’t need to provide an extensive history lesson in your cover letter but rather incorporate relevant information demonstrating your understanding and genuine interest. Focus on key points that align with the position you are applying for.

Remember to use your own words and avoid copying directly from the internet or other sources. Tailor the information to your experiences and explain how your skills and background make you a strong fit for the company and the position you are applying for.

4. State why you are interested in working for them as an employer

When writing a cover letter, it can be beneficial to demonstrate how the role you’re applying for aligns with your long-term career goals. This way, you can showcase your ambition, motivation, and strategic thinking to the employer.

Articulating the connection between the position and your career aspirations can help you stand out as a candidate. Here are some key points to consider when incorporating your long-term career goals into a cover letter:

Identify relevant goals and aspirations

Choose the career goals most aligned with the position you’re applying for. Select the ones that demonstrate a clear connection between the role and your future plans. Make sure to adjust your goals, if necessary, to match the job description and emphasise how the position supports your overall career trajectory.

Highlight previous positions

Discuss your previous roles and how they have contributed to your professional development and progression towards your long-term goals.

Share specific skills you have acquired and relevant experiences you have gained that directly relate to the position you’re applying for. This demonstrates the active pursuit of your career goals and shows that you have been proactive in acquiring the necessary skills and experiences.

Showcase how you can benefit the company

Employers want to know how the role can benefit you and how you can bring value to the company. Explain how the position will help you gain industry knowledge, enhance your skills, and contribute to the company’s goals.

Show that you have researched the organisation and understand how your abilities align with its objectives. Emphasise the mutual benefits of your career goals and the company’s mission.

Discuss your future with the company

Express your interest in long-term commitment and growth within the organisation. Share how staying with the company can provide opportunities for skill development and advancement towards your career goals.

Discuss how the company’s culture, values, and vision align with your aspirations. Demonstrate that you see yourself as a valuable asset to the company and convey your enthusiasm for a lasting partnership.

By incorporating these elements into your cover letter, you can effectively demonstrate to the employer how the role fits into your long-term career goals. This approach shows your forward-thinking mindset and aligns your aspirations with the objectives of the position and the company.

Remember to tailor your cover letter to the job you’re applying for, highlighting the aspects that resonate most with your career goals.

5. Tell them why they should be interested in you as an employee

Most top candidates will be skilled and hardworking professionals, so it’s important to consider why you would be the perfect candidate and communicate this in your cover letter. Highlight your past accomplishments and any additional skills that would benefit the organisation if you were selected to fill the position.

6. Tailor your cover letter to the job and avoid repetition

If you’re applying for multiple roles, don’t fall into the trap of reusing the same cover letter. It should be tailored to the position you are applying for and closely aligned with the job description.

7. Highlight your transferable skills, achievements, and versatility

Transferable skills can help determine your suitability for a role, so include any personal characteristics or personality traits that make you a better fit for the position and interesting to a hiring manager. If you have achieved outstanding results in a similar role, highlight your success.

8. Tailor your information, but don’t slavishly match the job description

Where your skills and experience fit the criteria, mention the crossover between them, but don’t use every word or listed skill set to describe yourself in your cover letter.

9. Make sure it’s neat, brief, and typo-free

A typed, one page and error-free cover letter is expected. If your cover letter contains spelling mistakes, your resume will very quickly find itself in the ‘no pile’, regardless of how experienced or skilled you are.

10. End by politely expressing interest in further dialogue

Invite them to get in touch or make reference to speaking further in an interview to emphasise your keenness to join the team. If you don’t hear back, email or call the interviewer.

Traits to showcase in a winning cover letter

Recruiting and hiring managers may receive hundreds of resumes and cover letters to review during the recruitment process. Your cover letter must reflect your unique capabilities, which position you as an ideal candidate. 

The purpose of your cover letter is to demonstrate the key attributes necessary for the position, so you should take the time and effort to write it well. Here are a few qualities and characteristics your cover letter should demonstrate:

Valuable: What do you have to offer as a professional, and how could you positively affect the organisation if you were to be offered the role? Sell your key strengths confidently in your cover letter to grab the reader’s attention. This will increase the likelihood of progression through the selection process.

Literate: There’s nothing worse than a glaring spelling error on your cover letter. A mistake in your letter suggests to the hiring manager not only that you lack attention to detail but also that you don’t care enough to take the time to proofread.

Therefore, it’s essential to make sure you check it over and have a friend do so as well before submitting it. It can be challenging to check your own work, so you could get a friend or mentor to help read your cover letter. Alternatively, you can run your letter through writing tools like the grammar checker on Microsoft Word or Grammarly.com.

A unique candidate: Use your cover letter to display your unique combination of skills and experience that relate to the job selection criteria of the role. Provide examples demonstrating a clear link between your knowledge, experience, abilities, and the employer’s needs.

Experienced: While soft skills, as well as academic abilities, are critical for securing an interview, your cover letter should also demonstrate your experience in relation to the job description to the hiring manager.

Be sure to include examples of relevant experience in your cover letter to highlight the value you would bring to the role and why you would be the best-suited candidate for the position. 

Enthusiastic: A tailored, compelling cover letter shows you have taken the time to research the company and understand the employer’s needs and job requirements. It is an opportunity to express that you are enthusiastic about the role, keen to be part of the team and demonstrate the value you would add to the company.

Cover letter template

Now that you know how to ensure your cover letter is ticking all the right boxes, you are ready to start writing. Like a resume, a certain amount of personal preference is involved when writing your cover letter.

There are generally similar guidelines for writing cover letters, and candidates should choose different letter structures that reflect their preferences and the job they are applying for.

Remember to keep your cover letter concise, usually one page long, and use a simple, professional font. Format it like a business letter with appropriate sections and spacing.

Here is a cover letter template you can use as a starting point for creating yours:

Dear <<Hiring Manager>>,

I am writing in response to your recent advertisement for the ‘Human Resources Recruitment Specialist’ position. Please find attached my resume for your consideration.

I am excited to express my interest in this role and believe that my experience and accomplishments make me an ideal candidate. With four years of successful experience as a human resources recruitment specialist, I have developed a deep understanding of the industry.

My background includes working for a leading global recruitment company, where I gained expertise in both specialist and generalist roles. Additionally, I have a proven track record of working with clients from various sectors, including the private and public sectors.

In my current role as a human resources recruitment specialist, I have achieved significant milestones that demonstrate my value:

  • Established strong relationships with the human resources functions of leading retail banks, earning preferred supplier status for HR and the wider business.
     
  • Expanded the client base by 20% year over year, showcasing my ability to diversify and attract new clients.
     
  • Increased the number of job placements across the client base by 45% year over year, indicating my success in finding suitable candidates for diverse roles.
     
  • Improved productivity and revenue by 30% year over year, contributing to the overall growth and success of the organisation.
     
  • Successfully managed multiple projects alongside day-to-day activities, including organising a CSR day and charity quiz, which raised $6,000 for charity while enhancing client and candidate relationships.

My experience aligns perfectly with the requirements of this role, and I am confident that I can bring substantial value to your organisation.

If you have any questions or would like to schedule an interview, please do not hesitate to contact me via the details on my resume. I am available at your convenience and look forward to hearing from you.

Kind Regards,

<<Your name>>

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Summary

Cover letters are still very much essential to your job application process and for nailing job interviews. Here's how you can master the art of writing cover letters to help you stand out.

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