Cover letter advice: how to make yours stand out

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You might be wondering what’s the point of a cover letter? Do they even get read these days? The simple answer is yes. And while you might not have to send a cover letter with every job application, there is a good chance you do for at least some of them.

In short, cover letters are still important and it is worth knowing how to write one well.

So, what is a cover letter?

A cover letter is many things: it is a way to get yourself noticed, to make your application stand out, and to appeal to your prospective employer. It is also an opportunity for you to explain what attracts you to the job, why the company should hire you and what benefits or experience you can bring to them. On top of that, it allows you to elaborate on elements of your CV and go into more detail about your experience. 

Why are cover letters important?

Companies often receive hundreds of applications for a single post and you’re lucky if you get a minute or more devoted to yours. Having a first-class cover letter can be the thing that gets you noticed.

For some hiring managers, cover letters are a vital tool in the hiring process. The difference between you sending an engaging one and a badly-written one can be the difference between getting called for interview or being thrown on the reject pile.

Other hiring managers will look at them but prefer to let your CV speak for itself. Of course, you don’t know which type will read yours but you’d be silly to pass up the opportunity to promote yourself and increase the chances of you landing the job.

How do you write a cover letter?

Cover letters are sometimes dashed off almost as an afterthought but you should spend an hour or two writing and checking it.

Make it Personal – don’t use a generic Dear Sir or To Whom It May Concern. It just looks lazy. Find out the name and title of the person you should be addressing your application to.

Research – before you begin writing, make sure you have done your homework on the company. You will be able to write knowledgeably and it also shows genuine interest in the position.

State the role – open your letter stating what role you are applying for but you don’t have to be too formal. If you have an interesting story recounting how you came to know the company, then there’s no harm putting it in. Think about how you can customise it and make it unique so a recruiter isn’t just getting a stock cover letter.

Suitability – explain why you are suitable for the role but make sure you talk about what experience, skills and qualifications you can bring with you to benefit the company rather than what the company can do for you.

Don’t rehash your CV - use a covering letter to talk about things that didn’t make it onto your CV or areas you wish to elaborate on. Unlike a CV, which is concise and full of bullet points, you can write in full sentences. Make the most of the space available.

Show what you’re capable of – look at the key skills listed in the job advert and respond to each one, focussing on how you can deliver and meet their requirements. 

Presentation – keep to one or two pages of A4 paper, in a clean format. You don’t want to go over the top with formatting and resizing borders, because it might not look as nice on a different screen, or work properly on different devices. Plain, simple formats are best. 

Be open to different formats – If you’re applying to a traditional company then a standard format is probably best but if the role is more creative then change your presentation. People have tried newspaper pages, gamification of CVs, videos or show reels, Facebook feeds, and even boxes of doughnuts to get their point across.


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