Cover Letters – The Essential Tips

Call it what you may: cover letter, letter of interest, expression of interest, prospecting letter, statement of purpose. While these terms are often used interchangeably, cover letters typically front a job application and constitute the first point of interaction between a job applicant and a prospective employer during the job hiring process. It provides a brief introduction of yourself and your skills and abilities, and provides a general first impression for your prospective employer. Unlike a CV or resume, your cover letter gives you the agency to ‘pitch’ your application to prospective employers on a more personal level. Not all employers request a cover letter in the hiring process, but should you be asked to submit one, here are the top tips you need to make sure you tick all the boxes potential hirers are looking for.

Pick out the details that matter

Like a CV or resume, include only what is relevant to the job and company you are applying for.  Run through the job listing and make sure the details you include in your cover letter answers all the requirements the job asks of you. Pick out key words from the job description and use them in place of cliché or overused expressions to describe yourself. This would make your application stand out more strongly as the employer would be looking for candidates that match the job description on the job listing. Do not simply reiterate whatever you included in your CV and resume. As a guide, pick out your most significant or most challenging projects and describe how your skills and strengths allowed you to tackle these projects successfully. Try not to include any weaknesses or shortcomings, but should you feel the need to mention any employment gaps or other significant anomalies in your employment history, always make sure you highlight how you overcame them or how you use the experiences as learning lessons for future work as oftentimes employers prioritize candidates who gainfully employ themselves over candidates who remain stagnant in between jobs.

Consistency is key

A common mistake job applicants make when crafting cover letters is using outdated or un-updated information. This may be because they accidentally refer to an old version of their CV or resume, or because they make updates to the CV and resume after writing their cover letter and forget to update the cover letter with the new changes. When making even the smallest changes to your CV or resume, make sure the information on your cover letter matches the information you have on your CV and resume, and further on in the process, the information you provide at the interview. Do not underestimate an employer’s ability to detect anomalies in an application – should they notice an inconsistency, it will reflect your ability to be efficient and thorough with your work. Check, and double-check everything that you are submitting, and send it to your family or peers to triple-check for even the smallest grammatical errors, typos, or inconsistencies. It does not hurt to proofread your application multiple times, but not doing so could hurt your reputation with the hiring company for current and future job applications. 

Keep it economical 

With many applications coming in day-by-day, employers hardly ever have the time to read through lengthy, long-winding cover letters. Chances are such lengthy letters are only glossed over before being tossed aside. It helps to be economical with words when writing your cover letter as it allows key skills or achievements to stand out. Being economical when writing your cover letter also reflects your skills and abilities to be precise and to stick to the point, which is an important skill to have in any industry. Like crafting CVs and resumes, whether you hit the mark or miss it when crafting your cover letter will reflect your ability to carry out the job well. A good cover letter should be specially tailored to each job you apply to. Do not over-rely on ‘model’ letters or pre-written templates you find online. Such templates serve as useful guidance, but should always be customized to the job and company you are applying to. By taking care to include references to the job listing and being specific about the examples and skills you include in the cover letter, you will demonstrate to the hiring company that you have a serious interest in the job and have taken special time and attention to craft the application you are submitting.

Organize your content and visual layout

Font, font size, margins, paragraphing – these may seem insignificant compared to the content you include in your cover letter, but your ability to get this right will either make or break your application. A cover letter should have a ‘flow’ and be visually organized in format as well as its presentation of information. Make sure the font, font sizes and margins of your cover letter match the ones on your CV or resume and other portfolio material you submit. Having a consistent family of fonts across your application would make your application look professional and organized. For the content, section your letter into three main paragraphs outlining a brief introduction of yourself, your qualifications, and the reasons for your interest in the job; concise and specific examples of your qualifications and past work experience and their relevance to the job; and a call to action proposing what you can offer for the job. Use connecting sentences between paragraphs so that your cover letter not only lists your skills and abilities, but also tells a story with it. Market your achievements by using numbers and data to strengthen and support your contributions to your previous companies where possible. If you are fresh out of school, note that your skills and experience from project work and extra-curricular activities count. Always address your cover letter to a specific contact person in the company where possible, and remember to conclude your letter thanking the employer for your time and mentioning that you are looking forward to discussing the job further with them.

Formatting and sending

Most cover letters nowadays are sent digitally, so unless the employer specifically requested for the cover letter to be submitted in a particular format, save your cover letter as PDF to prevent layout incompatibility issues should the letter be opened on other, often older computers. Should you need to submit a hard copy, use heavy plain white paper and print on it using high quality ink. If you are applying for a design job, it may make sense to show off your design and typography skills- but do research beforehand and check who will be screening the applications. Artistic directors in smaller companies usually screen job applications on their own, but hiring managers working in the HR department in larger companies may not care for the design detail you include. That said, researching the company would also provide beneficial insight on the company culture and allow you to better gauge what is the appropriate tone of voice to use in your letter. Doing extensive research for minor details to include in the cover letter may seem too much work to help you get your foot through the company’s doors, but the effort you put in will reflect not only your interest but also demonstrate the hard work you can potentially bring to the table.

Post by Faezah Zulkifli 

Faezah is a theatre artist and writer born in Singapore. She graduated with a BA in English and is currently based in London as an MA student at the Central School of Speech and Drama.