Guide to Writing a Cover Letter

A cover letter is the backbone of your application. It supports your CV and many recruiters will ignore resumes that are not accompanied by a cover letter. Like your resume, a cover letter should be custom made for each position that you apply for. Avoid sending a generic cover letter; it might not stand out among a thousand other well written cover letters.

An effective cover letter should be a compliment to your resume and not a mere repetition. It should first and foremost explain why you are sending a CV, that is, express your interest in the said job. As a recruiter will most probably look at the cover letter before the resume, it should convince him/her to look at your resume by being well written and targeted for the job at hand. The recruiter should be able to immediately relate your qualifications with the job you are applying for. In other words, your cover letter must tell the recruiter why he/she should hire you.

Types of Cover Letters

Three are three main types of cover letters. These are:

a.    Application letter – this is a cover letter written in response to a known or advertised job opening. It states your interest in the job and highlights your qualifications and serves as support to your CV.

b.    Prospective letter– a prospective cover letter is used to express an interest in a certain company or organization, and is not directed at any specific job. It is a speculative letter asking whether there are any jobs, and asking to be considered if any job openings arose at a later date.

c.     Networking letter– this type of cover letter is aimed at gathering more information about a company or organization. It will typically request for brochures, manuals, samples etc. You could also use a networking letter to ask about company structure or financial records (if open to the public).

How to write a cover letter

Here are some general tips on how to write a cover letter:

  • A cover letter will generally have three or so paragraphs. As with the resume, it should be free of any grammatical or spelling errors.
  • Other than telling the recruiter why you are writing and highlighting your background, a cover letter should also reflect your personality, motivation and excitement for the position.
  •  You should also research as much as you can about the company in question from the internet, business magazines etc and this knowledge should be reflected in your cover letter. For example, “I am excited at the possibility of working with “one of the most environmentally conscious companies of the 21st Century” as quoted on the July issue of Time Magazine”. This could be the little effort that makes you stand out above the rest.
  •   It is advisable to ask someone else to go through your cover letter before sending it. A different eye might see a mistake you may have overlooked.
  •  It is important to address a cover letter to an actual person, and not to “Dear Sir/Madam”. If you do not know the name of the HR Manager, do your best to find out, e.g. by calling, or on the company website. Remember, it is the extra effort that will make your letter stand out.

What to write in a cover letter

The first paragraph should be brief and to the point. You should quickly tell the recruiter why you are writing and which job you are applying for. Next, you may say how you learned of the position although this is becoming increasingly redundant. Finally, make a connection with the recruiter by saying why you are interested in this particular job.

The second paragraph is the major part of your letter and it should convince the recruiter that you are qualified for the position. It is here that you should talk about your previous experiences and how they relate to the position at hand. Pick 2 or 3 specific qualities or accomplishments that you have such as jobs, internships, projects etc, and cite them as examples all the while in relating them to the position you are applying for.  Show how your experiences and skills match with the job at hand. End this paragraph with a summary of the points given above. If necessary this paragraph can be broken into two smaller ones.

The third paragraph should only be a few lines long. Reiterate your interest in the said position. Mention that you have enclosed a resume (or any other documents requested such as photocopies of transcripts etc). It is imperative that you let them know what you intend to do next (follow up) such as when you will call back, visit or write an email etc. Mention that you will be happy to send them any other documents they may require. Answer any questions they might have put in the advertisement such as availability etc. Finally, thank them for their time and consideration, and emphasize that you are looking forward to hearing from them.

Other cover letter tips

  •   Increasingly, many job applications are now sent through email. As a precaution, save your documents using a format that opens easily and do not password protect it.
  •   Use an appropriate font, such as Times New Romans or Century, and also an acceptable font size such as 11 or 12.
  •  It is advisable to change your document to a PDF file where possible. A PDF file remains consistent when opened in any computer unlike a word document which may change font or settings depending on the recipient’s computer.
  •  If you send it as an attachment, use an appropriate subject in your email that will identify what the email is immediately. Unless otherwise instructed, you may use your full name followed by the name of the document to add clarity e.g. JOHN MICHAEL, COVER LETTER. Most job advertisements will give a job reference number. Be sure to quote this clearly




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