What is a Cover Letter?

An original and thoughtfully written cover letter is just one method that employers may use to screen out applicants who are not sufficiently interested in their position or who lack the necessary basic skills.

So what exactly is a cover letter? Its purpose is to demonstrate your motivation for applying, your commitment to the prospective role and the relevant skills you have to offer.

Many job applications will request a cover letter to accompany your CV, yet the content of the letter is left pretty much up to you. Here’s where you may need some help.

Types of cover letters

Generally there are two types of cover letter: a brief, generic letter which is fairly short and contains very little detail. Its purpose is to give a brief outline, confirm your interest in applying for the position and introduce the CV. These types of cover letters can be prepared in advance and used for multiple applications. They require only a minimum of editing because they are geared to one type of job or similar positions within a given industry.

Generic cover letters can be speculative. That is, they may not necessarily be used for advertised vacancies, but rather as a direct approach to a prospective employer to enquire as to whether they have suitable positions.

The second type is the specific or targeted cover letter. As the name suggests, they are written with an individual vacancy in mind. This type of cover letter cannot be prepared in advance and each one will need to be composed to suit the specific role being applied for.

What type of cover letter do I need?

The first thing to do is check whether the vacancy requires a cover letter. If it does, what kind? This may depend on the method of application. For example, many job websites have a facility where you can apply for a vacancy online by uploading your CV and pasting your cover letter into a text box. In this case, a generic letter is usually sufficient.

In the case of an online application process, where you have to complete a multi-stage application form online, a cover letter is not normally required.

Where a CV and cover letter is requested to be sent via email, use your letter as the body of the email, with the CV as an attachment.

When sending a CV by post, a cover letter is essential. Sending a CV on its own, with no explanation or introduction will probably be overlooked.

If an application requires a ‘personal statement’ or ‘additional information’ be aware this is not necessarily a cover letter. This is simply an opportunity to write how you match the criteria given in the Person Specification (Please note: NOT the Job Description).

Writing a Cover Letter

Remember that the purpose of a cover letter is not to repeat what’s in your CV. Your CV should already have a good overview of your skills, qualifications and experience. All you need to do now is highlight your biggest selling points and draw the reader’s attention to the bits of the CV that are of most relevance or interest to them.

Content:

  • Always tailor your cover letter to the role
  • Show you have researched the role, the organisation and the industry
  • Outline why you are attracted to the opportunity
  • Highlight your unique selling points.

Start off by saying who you are and what you want. Explain your purpose for writing. Go on to introduce your CV and highlight the main points. This could be your experience, your qualifications or indeed any skills which you can match to their requirements. Finish with a call to action, stating what you expect to happen next, for example ‘I hope to have the opportunity of discussing this with you further at the interview’. Most importantly, keep in mind that this will be the employer’s first impression of you so make it count.

Structure:

  • Paragraph 1: A positive, formal introduction outlining how you heard about the opportunity and why you are interested in the role and the organisation.
  • Paragraph 2: Introduce your CV, highlight the main points you want them to focus on and outline how the opportunity fits into your career plans.
  • Paragraph 3/4: Highlight your key skills and experiences and how they match the employer’s requirements.
  • Paragraph 4/5: End positively with a call to action and what you expect to happen next.

Top tips

  • Use one side of A4 and 4/5 paragraphs.
  • Address your letter to a named person; if possible contact the organisation to ask who will deal with your application. If you don’t know use ‘Dear Sir/Madam’.
  • Keep the tone professional and try to match your writing style to the industry.
  • Ensure there are no spelling or grammatical errors.

If you are able to follow these general tips, you will be well on your way to securing that all important interview!

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