Cover letter myths and how to write a better one

It may sound old fashioned, but cover letters are still important in securing your next job. It may no longer be a hard copy in an envelope typically, but a cover letter nonetheless, either sent by email or uploaded to the online application system is still a key part of making your CV or application form stand out.

So how to write an effective one? Here are some myths that you need to overcome followed by some guidance.

Myth 1: Your cover letter is more specific to the job

Of course both your CV and letter should be specific to the job that you apply for. The cover letter is not more so. It should succinctly outline why you are the right person for the job. But don’t reduce its effectiveness by pairing it with a generic, partially irrelevant CV.

Myth 2: You can use the letter to elaborate

Eh, … Simple maths here people:

CV = 2 pages / letter = 1 page – the address and sign off taking up some of the page. You really don’t have much space to elaborate on anything. Not unless you sacrifice the main purpose of the letter.

The content of your letter should simply be a summary of your CV focussed on the job and a statement that you hope to get the chance to meet them at an interview.

The things that candidates are typically trying to elaborate on are usually not necessary anyway. If it is to explain a gap in your work history then the letter should only briefly refer to this and only if it is a positive reason. If it’s to explain that you don’t have a particular skill or experience that they are looking for but …. Then this is not helpful either. You need to just focus on what you do have to offer them.

Myth 3: No-one reads them anyway / they don’t matter

I can’t guarantee that all recruiters read all letters. I have certainly seen cases where recruiters have wilfully ignored letters. But what if they do read yours and it’s not up to scratch? If you want the job you will not take the chance!

Do I read every cover letter I ever get? Yes.

Do I judge people for being lazy and simply saying ‘Please see attached my CV’. Absolutely.

My opinion is that even just for the sake of common courtesy, if the employer asks for a cover letter you should do one and it should be sufficiently detailed to be worthy of the name. If they don’t ask for one, you should send one anyway, demonstrating that you have standards.


So, what are the key elements of a good cover letter?

  • Address it to the right person. This is not necessarily the HR Manager. It is more likely to be a specific line manager. Call and ask for their name if you have to.
  • Tell them how you found out about the job and why it interests you.
  • Summarise why you are suitable.
  • Tell them you would welcome the chance to have an interview.

This will get your CV read in a positive light and will help you to demonstrate your status as a professional.

There are many other cover letter myths as well of course. Let me know any that you come across.

Written by

CV Writer and Interview Coach. Blogging about ways to improve your CV writing and job searching experience.