Question: When should you use a cover letter? Answer: Always.
With the new year beginning comes an increase in employees looking to change jobs. A cover letter may not always be a requirement, but it can help you get the edge over your competition, and is often expected by larger companies. Your cover letter will be the first thing a hiring manager reads about you, you only get one chance to make a first impression so make sure it's a good one.
A cover letter should be a maximum of 475 words (around 3/4s of a page) selling yourself; explaining who you are, why you want the job, and what experience and skills can you bring to the table.
Before you begin writing the letter make sure you’ve researched the company and the job role so you know exactly what you’re applying for. Start by listing the job requirements and match your experience to them, select 3 or 4 key points to discuss in your cover letter – these should be the skills and experiences the employers are looking for the most. Make sure to use the key words from the job advert in your cover letter and your CV.
Before the hiring manager sees your cover letter they’ll see the subject line. Make sure to include the job title, the reference number (if you have one), and your name. This will help make sure the right person receives your application, and will make it easy for them to find if searching through their inbox.
To whom it may concern
When starting a cover letter try to find the specific hiring manager’s name online. Look at the company’s LinkedIn and see if you can find the name of the manager, if not anyone in the recruitment team will suffice. If you can’t find any names, starting the letter with ‘to whom it may concern’ or ‘dear sir/madam’ is okay too.
The next step is a short introduction where you briefly summarise yourself: who are you and what role are you applying for - make sure you put the right job title. This sounds like an obvious tip but if you’re applying for lots of jobs it’s easy to copy and paste the wrong title – the manager probably won’t consider your application if you put the wrong company! If there’s a job reference number on the job advert include the number, it will make your application easy to find.
Why do you want this job role? What experience do you have that’s relevant? Look at the job description and match your experience to the job specification. Were there any notable achievements in your previous roles?
What skills can you bring to the table? Discuss the skills listed in the job description that you meet giving examples of times when you’ve used and developed them.
Why do you want to work at this company? What do you like about this company? Research the company and find a news story, campaign, or activity that you like about the company. A lot of companies list their values on their website, do you share any of the same values? Employers are interested in candidates who can display enthusiasm and interest in the industry, is there a particular industry development that you’re interested in?
The final paragraph should be short and sweet. Just summarise why you’re the right candidate and add anything else you think is relevant (e.g. any awards or achievements relating to the job role).
The Sign Off
Sign off the letter optimistically, something like ‘I have attached my CV and look forward to hearing from you in future’ or ‘I look forward to meeting with you to discuss my suitability’. If you know the name of the hiring manager sign the letter off with ‘Yours sincerely’, if you don’t know their name sign it with ‘Yours faithfully’.