What is a cover letter?

When it comes to job hunting, the majority of emphasis is usually placed upon your CV. Lots of institutions will offer ‘CV workshops’, you can have your CV reviewed by multiple companies and in a job interview, it is your CV which you will be asked about. So why when you go to apply for a job do employers ask for this obscure little thing called a cover letter? Whether you have or have not heard of a cover letter, you should be informed that cover letters are actually an extremely important part of any job application. Yet they still tend to take people by surprise and are often neglected, because it is difficult to know exactly what they are. So, what is a cover letter?

A cover letter is typically attached to your CV containing additional information about yourself and your skills. It has its similarities and differences to a CV. It is similar in the sense that it is an outline of your skills and experience and its purpose is to convince the employer to interview you. However, the most important difference is that it should be completely tailored to the job you are applying for. This allows you to expand and elaborate upon your skills that are most appropriate for the specific role and it enables you to get across elements of your personality too. Nearly every job will require a cover letter and it is more likely to be the cover letter which determines whether or not you get an interview, or have your application ignored. Therefore, it goes without saying that you should put a fair amount of time, effort and research into writing it. It is not designed to simply reinforce what is on your CV; instead you should provide detail and additional information about what exactly makes you the ideal candidate for the position. 

Although most jobs will ask you for a cover letter, unless explicitly told not to include one, it is always worth sending one along with your CV. However, you can also write prospecting and networking cover letters. Prospecting cover letters are inquiries about potential job roles in a company. Networking cover letters seek help and advice in your job search. However, in this article we are focusing on application cover letters.

So, let’s get down to the nitty gritty.

How long should it be? A cover letter should be one page of A4. As much as you may have pages and pages of fabulous things to write about yourself, do be careful not to ramble on too much. Do not go over the one-page limit and remember to write your letter in clear, concise paragraphs. It should be formatted in the style of any official letter. 

What needs to be included in a cover letter? You need to include your personal details, how you found the vacancy and the employer’s name if possible (it is a letter after all!). The rest of the letter should be dedicated to explaining why you are suitable for the job. CVs can often blend into one another and so it is your cover letter which will make you stand out. You have the opportunity to really explain what you can do for the company and why it is you they should offer an interview to. However, there is no exact right or wrong with a cover letter, and if you need further help with the guidelines there are many cover letter templates available on the internet. 

Cover letters are not that tricky, but they are very important. The best way to view a cover letter is to use it as an opportunity to tell your potential employer exactly what you want them to know about you. It is also a fantastic way to get some of your personality across, something that is very hard to do with just a CV alone! Do not view cover letters as a chore but as the perfect chance to really sell yourself. 

Now that the mystery of cover letters has been solved, happy job hunting! 

Post by Gabrielle Morris