How to write a cover letter

People that I speak to often find cover letters particularly tricky. There is probably a lot less advice around on how to do these compared with other aspects of job applications. Thus they often fall into one of two traps: The ‘writing lengthy stories rather than getting to the good bits’ trap, or the ‘Please see my CV’ and very little else trap.

Are cover letters important? The answer is ‘it depends’. But it is also not worth the risk of sending an inadequate one. You see, some recruiters will read them carefully and some won’t. It is possible that your cover letter won’t be read at all. But why take the risk. Certainly, f you have been asked for a cover letter then you need to assume that it will be properly considered. Here are some key considerations:

1. Cover everything

Obviously this means briefly. There are some clever ways of getting all of the key criteria into your letter through proper structure and by being succinct. But cover the key themes that the employer is looking for. If you don’t do this then you are at risk of a recruiter who really values one thing scanning your letter and not finding it.

2. Write nothing that isn’t on your CV

It really worries me when I hear people say ‘I can’t fit that on my CV – I’ll just put it in the letter’. This is really risky because what if they don’t read the letter? What if they read the letter, but during the interview concentrate mainly on the CV? Your CV has to be a complete summary of the value that you offer and the letter has to be a summary of that.

3. Try not to go over a page

Unless the employer has specifically asked you to explain something specific and complicated, there shouldn’t be any need for more than a page. A few paragraphs and possibly a set of bullets should do the job if they are well written.

4. Include a cover letter if applying online or via email

The same rules apply. If it’s an email, simply copy the cover letter straight in to the body of the  email. If it’s online you can either attach the letter separately or have the letter as the first page of a three or four page document that includes your CV.
So, the days of a cover letter simply saying ‘Please find attached my CV’ are gone, if indeed they ever existed. But cover letter writing is just an extension of CV writing. Get it right and the improved impression that you make will help your career greatly.

See more advice on how to write a cover letter.

Graeme Jordan

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