How to Write a Cover Letter
Allow me to paint a scene; you’re looking through a list of jobs, completely uninspired, until you stumble on The One… Or the one job on the list that you think you would be passably good at. You’re going through the qualifications and the experience and the whatnot that is needed for the job, and you’re thinking, ‘Hey, I could do this!’ So, you scroll down to the ‘how to apply’ section and you see the words ‘Cover Letter.’
You stop and stare and think to yourself: ‘What on earth is a Cover Letter?’ A cover letter, put simply, is a letter you send to a company or organisation as part of your application process that gives the company an idea of who you are and why you’d be good for the role. It’s kind of like a personal statement, but for a job. Now that you know what a cover letter is, you’re probably wondering, ‘Okay, great; how do I write one?’
The first thing you want to start with is addresses, both your own address and the address of the place you’re applying to. Make sure these are both at the top of the page, ideally in bold. If you’re not sure what the address is, try looking on the official website for the company. There will usually be a ‘how to contact us’ section and the address will be listed here. Make sure their address is on the top right side of the page and yours is on the top left side. The next thing you want to write is the date and underneath that you want to write ‘Dear Sir/Madam.’ If possible, find out the name of the person who shall be reading the letter and address it to them, e.g. Mrs Smith.
With that done, you now move onto the main text of the letter. You start by writing what position you are applying for within their company and how you found out about the job. So, you write something like this: ‘I am writing to you to apply for the position of Secretary within Made-Up-Company, advertised on Made-Up-Website.’
You then tell them why you’re interested in the position. Try to come up with something other than ‘Because I need money to live.’ Valid though that reason may be, it won’t impress would-be employers. At the same time, don’t say something trite like ‘I’ve always been interested in becoming a Secretary since I was a child.’ Just be as sincere as you can. This will make it easier to talk about why you want THIS specific job.
Now we move onto the next paragraph, where you will be talking about the company itself. Here, you should show off the research you have done about the company and why you are interested in it. You can say something like, ‘Having researched Made-Up-Company further after reading the application, I was impressed with…’. Again, try to be genuine with your interest.
Next is the most important part of the cover letter: telling your would-be employers why YOU would be the best candidate for the job. You do this by looking at the specific skills listed in the job application and explain how you have those skills. For example, if the company says they want someone detail-oriented, you can talk about a group or a class in which you learned this skill: ‘While I was studying Higher History, I improved my detail-oriented skills as I had to pay attention to key dates of WW2 to ensure I did not get them mixed up.’ Admittedly, that’s a pretty poorly worded sentence but you get the gist. Correlate the knowledge you have with the skills they have listed.
You can also talk about scenarios in which you have displayed the desired skills listed on the application. It’s useful to use the STAR method here; Situation, Task, Action, Result. First explain what is going on and why you are using this scenario to exemplify how you have this particular skill. Then, detail what exactly you had to do. Tell them what you did to meet this target and finally, explain what happened as a result of this. So, for example: Situation: ‘I became a better public speaker because I had to do a presentation in front of my class for my grade, which made me nervous as I am not a very confident person.’
Task: ‘I had to learn how to become a better public speaker so I could successfully do my presentation.’ Action: ‘I practised my talk in front of the mirror and then in front of friends to boost my confidence and ensure I knew what I was talking about.’ Result: ‘My presentation went very well and I became more confident with speaking in front of others.’ Again, the wording of this is pretty clunky but it serves its purpose and you now have a rough idea of what you’re supposed to do for the STAR method. There’s also many helpful things on Google in relation to STAR, so don’t be afraid to do some more research! (I’ve also included a link below which should help).
After that, the next step is to write a final paragraph concluding why you think you are the best candidate for this position and stating your hope to discuss your application with them further. Finally, you sign your letter in the correct way. What’s the correct way, you ask? Well, it all depends on how you started it. If you started with ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ you sign it with ‘Yours faithfully, [insert first name surname].’ If you started it with their name (‘Dear Mrs Smith’) then you sign it with ‘Yours sincerely, [insert first name surname].’
Now, here’s some technical stuff for ya. Your cover letter should:
- Be no more than 400 words
- Be no more than 1 page
- Be in a size 11 or 12 font
- Be in a simple to read font like Arial or Calibri
- Be neat and orderly
- Be tailored for the specific job you are applying for (i.e., don’t just copy and paste!)
This may seem very scary but you’ll pick it up with practice. There’s loads of helpful guides online that should help you with this and I’ve included some links to these at the bottom of the article. The most important thing to remember is this: Don’t sell yourself short! It may be tempting to downplay your skills and traits but don’t. Companies want you to tell them why you’d be the best candidate for the job and to do that, you need to be confident and assertive.
You obviously shouldn’t lie on your cover letter (so don’t tell them you’re an astronaut who graduated from Cambridge if you aren’t) but there’s no need to devalue your abilities. Just be honest and positive. And don’t get discouraged if you don’t get the job. There will be something out there for you, so always keep trying!
Best of luck!
Written by: Ashley Pannell