Nail the Cover Letter. Part three of Job Hunting: Our Five-Part Ultimate Guide

Written by Stefani Janson
Edited by Liam Dogger

A cover letter is like a first date—the impression you make counts! Many don’t know where to start: what do you write, how do you write it and what is the best format? Never fear, we will answer these questions and more in this handy cover letter guide.

1. What is a cover letter?

A cover letter is a snapshot of your experiences and motivations for applying to a given role. It should have a logical sequence, be well formatted and have no errors. A cover letter is a strategic piece: it should showcase your best self to create excitement in the reader so they pay attention to your application.

2. How should I create a cover letter? 

The easiest way to write a cover letter is to work from a template. Not sure where to start? We have made a template to help you kick-start the cover letter writing process (we hope you enjoy it as we have put a few jokes in for your reading pleasure!).

A suggested format for your cover letter is as follows: 

  • A header under the name of the addressee in bold (for example, “Application for Senior Analyst role at HSBC”);

  • An introduction line (your name and the position you’re applying for);

  • A sentence covering why you’re interested in the role (including what you like about the company or organisation to which you're applying);

  • A few paragraphs on your qualifications and professional experience (that are chosen strategically to demonstrate why you’re a good fit for the position);

  • One or two sentences as to why you relate to or embody the organisation’s values; and

  • A closing statement.

Having this structure is ideal as it creates an ordered cover letter which will be easy and enjoyable for HR to read. Do not underestimate the power of a well-crafted cover letter to make a great impression: they truly do stand out in the sea of applications that organisations receive! In addition, ensure formatting is minimal: reading too much bold, underlined or italicised text undermines the effectiveness of your writing. Use it minimally and tactically: check out the template as to how you can do this to your advantage.

For your very first template, leave sections that require tailoring (for example, organisational values) with “[insert information]” for required tweaking. Once your template is complete, seek feedback from those you previously sent your CV to (see part two in this series, CV 101, to refresh your memory of who you should send it to for review). Furthermore, if you have contacts on the inside of an organisation you’re applying to, send them your final draft (with all of the “[insert here]” fields replaced by actual drafted text) and ask for feedback. They may be able to provide insights that are not readily available on the website. Once returned, amend your template as necessary to reflect the feedback that will be applicable to any job application. 

3. How do I tailor a cover letter?

No two cover letters should be the same. If you can simply substitute the name of an organisation between two cover letters and they make sense, you have not tailored your cover letter sufficiently.

The key ways you can tailor your cover letter are by:

  • Writing about the organisation’s values and expressing how you have demonstrated these attributes;

  • Addressing the key selection criteria/role requirements and how they relate to you; and

  • Showing interest in the organisation.

Allow us to explain these points.

i) Organisation's values:

You can find an organisation’s values generally in the “about us” or "careers" sections of the website. You can also Google search the organisation alongside the word “values” and see where it takes you. YouTube can also be helpful if you're getting particularly stuck and it is a large organisation. Once obtained, think about your experiences that demonstrate the organisation’s values. For example, if the company values collaboration, can you write about a time where you have worked with others to collectively achieve success? Make sure your answers are succinct, no more than a few sentences are needed. An example of how you would draft this is as follows:

  • Whilst working at CompanyX, I worked with various departments on a project to enhance the customers' experience of free online returns. My enthusiasm to work as part of a team to achieve success for the organisation aligns with your company’s value of collaboration.

This example packs a serious punch. As you can see, this answer mentions the candidates previous role, their ability to engage in strategic projects, problem solve, work as part of a team AND collaborate! By carefully crafting your responses you can save HR precious time and make it easy for them to view you as an attractive candidate.

ii) Key selection criteria:

You must ensure that you make mention of the attributes and skills that are required as part of the role. As just shown, you need to pair the key selection criteria with a personal example. Here is a demonstration of how you would do this:

  • I pride myself on my ability to communicate clearly, effectively and appropriately. This is most aptly shown by my experience in CompanyX, where I frequently engaged with customers of diverse backgrounds and was commended for my abilities with the award of customer service employee of the month.

This way, you have not relied on HR looking through your CV to find whether you have the attributes they require in a candidate. Rather, you have plucked an impressive example and made it a highlight in your cover letter, which makes it easy for the recruiter and will leave a strong impression.

iii) Showing interest in the organisation:

Showing interest in the organisation is another great way to set yourself apart. You can use the news function in Google to see whether the organisation has recently been in the headlines. However, be discerning with what you chose: do not write about something controversial! Only celebrate the organisation's successes in your cover letter. For example, you could write:

  • I have been impressed by CompanyX’s marketing strategy. The company’s use of social media platforms to engage a younger demographic has been an impressive tactic. Further, I recently enjoyed hearing your CEO at the Women’s Networking Evening speak about the young women's mentoring program in the business. I would be proud to work at an organisation that actively promotes supporting female staff members to be their best.

Showing you are keeping up to date with company achievements and developments will make you a strong candidate. Further, who doesn’t like to hear compliments? Businesses love being told that their efforts are being noticed and are making an impact!

4. Finalising and sending your application

Once you have completed your cover letter for each organisation, proof, proof and PROOF your work! Ensure there are zero mistakes as this is often the first thing HR reads from your application. Even one error can put you out of the running. As part of this proof, ensure you address the cover letter to the right person. You would be surprised how many people either incorrectly list the addressee or spell their name incorrectly. Not sure who you should be addressing your cover letter to? Often this is contained in the job application description, but if not all you need to do is call the organisation and ask reception who you should direct your job application to. Simple and sorted! 

Now you’re truly ready to send off your cover letter with your recently updated CV. Don’t forget to keep using your spreadsheet to keep track of your work: even ticking off one application will give you a great endorphin rush and make you feel like you’ve made progress!