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How to Write Effective Cover Letters
If an employer requests a résumé, they normally want a cover letter too. Don't let go of this bonus opportunity to showcase your skills and enthusiasm – it can make a big difference to the success of your job application!
A convincing cover letter should always accompany a résumé when applying for a graduate job. It’s an extra opportunity to highlight your most relevant skills to recruiters, and to demonstrate your motivation and enthusiasm for the job and the employer.
A cover letter shouldn’t be longer than one page, so space will be tight! Not to worry, though. Here's our four-step guide to effectively selling your skills even with such limited room!
Step #1: Get your opening right
After your salutation, tell the recruiter which job, internship, or scheme you are applying for; where you saw it advertised, and why you are applying. If the position has a reference number, it’s always good to include that for their easy reference.
Always address your cover letter to a named contact. Give the organisation a call to find out whom you should address your job application to if a name isn’t given on the job ad or their careers website.
Make sure you get the person’s title (and gender!) right: Mr., Miss, Mrs. or Mdm.? Or would another title (like Dr.) be appropriate? Some people may feel quite strongly about how they are addressed, and it would be a shame if you stumbled at that first hurdle.
Step #2: Answer the question “Why you?”
The first paragraph or two should be about you. Convince the employer why you are well-suited to the role by referring directly to the job description and concentrating on how you have the skills, abilities, and/or knowledge to excel in this job.
Mix evidence of specific skills and knowledge related to the job with anecdotes from your work and personal experiences. At graduate level, it’s still fine to refer to work experience that isn’t directly related to the profession you are applying to, so long as you can show how that experience “transfers” into the job.
Mine examples from part-time jobs, extra-curricular activities, and academic work as well to demonstrate how you have used and developed skills such as communication, teamwork, problem solving abilities, time management, and commercial awareness.
Avoid copying statements word-for-word from your résumé. Think about how you can rephrase the information, or expand on particular skills and achievements you have that match the needs of the role.
Step #3: Then, answer the question “Why them?”
The next paragraph or so should explain why you are interested in both the job and the organisation.
What was it about the employer and/or the job role that made you apply? This is your opportunity to customise your cover letter so that the recruiter knows you are interested specifically in their graduate job, instead of blasting out cookie-cutter résumés and cover letters to a dozen different companies.
Re-read the job advertisement or description, and make sure you have done some background research into the organisation. This will help you tell the recruiter why you want to work for their company and why you are interested in this particular job.
Provide specific reasons when discussing your motivations for applying, such as the work the employer does or the training they provide. Avoid turgid statements that could be said about pretty much any employer in the world, such as “… because you’re a prestigious and dynamic employer”.
Step #4: Have a clear ending
Your closing paragraph should be strong, clear, and short.
Reaffirm your suitability for the role and your enthusiasm about the idea of working for the employer. State that you look forward to hearing from them, and will be happy to provide any further information they need.
Don’t forget to sign your letter if you are sending it through the mail or delivering it in person. Likewise, remember to type out your name if you are sending your cover letter by e-mail.
Brush up on modern trends when it comes to writing business letters. For letters addressed to a named contact, finish with “Yours sincerely”. If you can’t find a named contact no matter what but are applying anyway, end with “Yours faithfully”.
You could turn steps #2 and #3 around and write about why you’re applying to the employer first, if you'd find that more comfortable. As long as you answer both “Why you?” and “Why them?” in your letter, the exact order doesn’t matter.
- When to write a cover letter
You should always write a cover letter when you are invited to submit a résumé via e-mail. There are two ways to send your cover letter and both are usually acceptable:
- Attach both the résumé and the coer letter to your e-mail. Write a brief message in the e-mail stating your interest in the specific role and your attachments. Don’t go for the “Please find my CV attached for your consideration” one-liner and leave it at that.
- Write the e-mail itself as your cover letter. You could include your contact details as your signature at the end. Then, attach your résumé.
Make sure you check the job ad carefully to see if you have been given any specific instructions. Different employers may have different preferences.
- Presentation counts! Keep it professional
- Keep your writing professional and formal.
- Use specific filenames for your attachments (e.g. David Lim_cover letter.doc) so that recruiters can identify them easily after downloading them.
- For your subject line, use one that will make sense to the recipient and looks professional (e.g. use the job reference: Vacancy – FT786_PW Trainee Accountant).
- Keep sentences straightforward and simple. Using action verbs and the active voice will help. (i.e. “I accomplished X” vs. “X was accomplished by me”)
- Match your skills and experience to the specific requirements in the job description.
- Always check before sending anything out!
- Before you send out a cover letter, check it for spelling, grammar, and the flow of your points.
- You can get a trusted friend or careers advisor to help you proofread it before you send it out.