How to write great cover letters

Your cover letter may be standing between you and your dream job

If you’re struggling to write cover letters or are questioning whether you should include one at all, you may find this e-book helpful.

Throughout this page, we will address:

  • The purpose of a cover letter;
  • Whether you should use a generic or tailored cover letter;
  • Why you should take a "quality over quantity" approach; and
  • What to consider when writing your next cover letter. 
Your cover letter may be standing between you and your dream job

What is the purpose of a cover letter?

The purpose of a cover letter is to:

  • Introduce your application and your reasons for applying; and
  • Link your key skills and experience to the requirements of the role.

Your cover letter should not repeat the information included in your CV, but instead highlight and draw connections between the CV items that are directly applicable to the vacancy.

Recruiters don't want to hire someone who just wants a job - they want to hire someone who has a strong interest in their role. Your cover letter should convey this interest.

Don't miss the opportunity to convey your interest and suitability by excluding a cover letter.

What is the purpose of a cover letter?

Should my cover letter be generic or tailored?

You need to tailor your cover letter to every position you apply for. This is because generic cover letters:

  • Provide no value to the recruiter, as they don't address what makes you suitable for the role; and
  • Give the impression that you are not particularly interested in the role or company, as you have not taken the time to write a tailored cover letter and do not address the role or company specifically.

As such, including a generic cover letter could result in you missing out on your dream job – it would almost be better to not include a cover letter at all.

Conversely, tailored cover letters:

  • Tell the recruiter exactly why you are suitable for the role - this makes their job easier, and stops them from missing important information; and
  • Highlight your interest in the role and company, potentially distinguishing you from other applicants.

Additionally, taking the time to write a tailored cover letter gives you the opportunity to consider whether the role is really for you. This allows you to move on and apply for roles that are more suitable, saving both you and the recruiter time and effort.

Should my cover letter be generic or tailored?

Cover letter writing tips


Demonstrate you have read the job advertisement by making specific reference to the ad in terms of the client and details of the role.

  • State the position you're applying for.
  • Make sure you list the correct position - if you don't, it will demonstrate a lack of attention to detail.
  • For example, you might simply state "I am writing to apply for the position of Sales Manager as advertised on SEEK."
Demonstrate you have read the job advertisement

Address the selection criteria - you should address each key selection criteria from the job advertisement.

  • If you do not have the experience/qualification then say so, as it will come out anyway. It is perfectly okay to apply for jobs where you don’t meet all the selection criteria. However, if you do, you should address why you are applying and what might compensate for your lack of experience/qualification.
  • Note, if you are struggling to meet many of the points, it may be best to re-evaluate applying for that particular job.
Address the selection criteria

Showcase your proven ability - recruiters aren't interested in self-praise. Instead, give examples of where you have demonstrated your abilities.

  • Proven, qualitative success is more impactful than just stating "I have X years of experience".
  • Include statements such as “Attained the highest rating in customer satisfaction through a company-sponsored customer review and feedback program.”
  • Starting your cover letter with an accomplishment will also make a great first impression.
  • Address how your accomplishments can be applied to bring value to your potential employer.
Showcase your proven ability

Communicate your desire for the job - give the recruiter insight into why you at least want to discuss the role, because it looks like it may be what you are truly after.

  • Acknowledge the nature of the job and highlight your capability and interest to succeed in the role. For example, "Having been in my current role as a Client Liaison Manager for 5 years, I'm interested in moving into a field-based position. I believe I possess the knowledge and experience required to perform well.“
  • Tell the recruiter why you are interested in the company - make them feel special and tell them something unique. For example, "I am passionate about educating others on how a healthy diet can chance the way they feel. The way Company X promotes a healthy body image is something I admire and strive to be part of."
Communicate your desire for the job

Your cover letter should not be a copy of what is in your CVThink of yourself as a salesperson. 

  • Your CV is a brochure, while your cover letter is an effective tool for highlighting why you should be considered.
  • It tells the recruiter why they should read your CV, and what they should look out for when doing so.

Having a cover letter that simply states “The enclosed resume will provide you with the information regarding my employment background, training and skills” does not assist the recruiter. Instead, be your own salesperson and explain why you are a great fit for the role.

Your cover letter should not be a copy of what is in your CV



Quality over quantity

It is a mistake to apply for every job you come across.

Most recruiters nowadays use software that immediately shows all the jobs a candidate has applied for.

For example, at 11 Recruitment we have candidates who have applied for 30, 50, or even more of our roles. This does not look good for a number of reasons.

  • Applying for so many jobs means your CV and cover letter are likely generic will therefore be easily overlooked.
  • The recruiter may think, "if this is the number of applications they sent to just us, how many other jobs have they applied for?“
  • It raises the question, "why is this candidate still on the market after so many applications?“
  • It tells the recruiter that you that you are not particularly interested in their role, that you are just desperate for a job. Imagine a candidate applies for the following roles in quick succession. If you were a recruiter seeing this, what kind impression would you get?

In his research on this topic, Robert Coombs built a bot to apply to thousands of jobs at once. In his findings, Coombs discovered that the volume of applications he sent made no difference to how often he heard back.

So, instead of applying for roles en masse, we recommend you take a selective and consistent approach.

Quality over quantity

What to consider

Recruiters spend a lot of time reading cover letters, so they know what they are looking for and can quickly skim over applications to screen candidates. With this in mind, here are some key points to consider to help improve your chances of progressing.


Don't complain about other agencies. Complaining about recruitment agencies, employers or processes will reflect poorly on your character.

Don't include statements like "I have put a lot of time into my cover letter, only to have it ignored." This is an off-putting mentality, and a recruiter doesn’t want to spend time reading about how much someone hates their process before they’ve even started.

Don't complain about other agencies

Leave out your references

Leave out your references. Even if you think your references are amazing, you shouldn’t mention them in your cover letter, as it is too early in the process.

 You can find out more about why you should not include your references in your CV or cover letter by watching our video on the topic

Use professional language. Make sure that the cover letter is written using professional language and is structured properly.

  • Make yourself the active subject of every sentence. For example, “In this position, I developed/reinforced/learned/etc.”
  • Do a spell check and reread your cover letter to make sure it is perfect. Get someone else to proofread it before you submit your application. Bad spelling, grammar or colloquialisms don’t leave a good impression!
Use professional language

Address why you are looking for a new role

Address why you are looking for a new role. Be upfront about why you are looking for a new role, especially if it is outside of your control. For example, "The reason for my application is because my most recent employer decided to close their business.“

However, you should also take care to avoid badmouthing your previous employer, as this could make you look bad. Complaining about your last workplace may give the recruiter the impression that you are whinger. The recruiter may worry that you are likely to complain about them or a potential employer in the future.


Don't state your opinion - stick to the facts. While you may consider yourself “confident” and “adept” this is your opinion, so you shouldn't describe yourself as such in your cover letter. Stick to the facts and let the recruiter form their own opinion.

Don't state your opinion - stick to the facts



Conclusion

Remember, the purpose of sending your CV and cover letter is not to get the job but to instead introduce yourself.

The two most important takeaways you should keep in mind writing your next cover letter are:

  • Tailor your cover letter for each job you apply for. Demonstrate you have read the job advertisement, address the selection criteria, showcase your proven ability, and highlight your desire for the job.
  • Focus on quality over quantity. It is better to send out 2 job applications with well written cover letters than 10 with poorly written ones.
  • Don’t complain about other agencies or your previous employer.

If you need some further assistance writing your cover letter or CV, you may be interested in our CV writing service. Click the button below to find out more.

Conclusion

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