Writing The Perfect Cover Letter: 12 Dos & Don’ts

A well-written CV is clearly a prerequisite when it comes to job application, but don't overlook the importance of an equally well-written cover letter. We asked some of the top experts from the careers industry to share their dos and don'ts to ensure you get it right.

DO Your Research

Before you apply for any job, you need to do your research. “Take some time to look into the role you’re applying for and the company – and use this information to tailor your cover letter accordingly,” says Amber Rolf from job search site Reed. “When you’re writing a cover letter, you should find out what the company does, who their competitors are, who the target audience is and what the role involves. Once you’ve found answers to these questions, you’ll be able to make it clear in your cover letter how your skills and abilities match up with what the employer is looking for. Not only will doing research give you the knowledge you need to tailor your cover letter and CV to the style of the company, it also demonstrates that you’ve got a real interest in the specific role and company.”

DO Address The Right Person

Where possible, experts agree it’s always better to address a specific hiring manager rather than addressing it “To Whom It May Concern.” As Amber explains: “Cover letters should be addressed to the person dealing with the applications. Usually, this will be shown somewhere in the job advert – and if not, don’t be afraid to find out. Start by visiting the company’s website, or LinkedIn page, to track down the name of a relevant recipient, and if you have no luck there – there’s no harm in simply calling and asking. Not only will you be able to address your letter accurately, you’ll also demonstrate your initiative and genuine interest in the role.” Once you’ve found out, however, experts agree it is still good manners to address your letter with ‘Dear Mr Smith/Dear Ms Jones’ rather than using the person’s first name. 

DO Express Your Enthusiasm

It’s all too easy for cover letters to come across as an afterthought, with people often spending more time tinkering with their CV instead. “If you are genuinely attracted to the company’s brand or have used their products or services before, this is a great opportunity to say so,” advise the career experts at Indeed. “Employers value authentic enthusiasm because it often translates to highly motivated and successful employees.” In general, it’s also a good opportunity to express passion for what you do, and what you could bring to the company if hired. “Passion is one of the greatest driving factors behind success. And since hiring managers are looking for candidates who can be advocates for their company and come with a strong work ethic, starting off by expressing your passions and motivations is a real attention grabber,” agree the Indeed experts.

DO Be Consistent With Formatting

Presentation is imperative in cover letters, so you'll need to format it properly. “Make sure the document is as uncluttered as possible, use the same font and size as you use in your CV and if you're sending it through the post or handing it in, use good quality paper to print it on,” says Jemma Smith from Prospects. Amber adds: “Your cover letter should be well-presented, concise, and to-the-point. So, use an easy-to-read font, and don’t get carried away with embellishments. That means no pictures, no Comic Sans, and definitely no word art. Aside from ensuring it’s written using clear paragraphs – it also should be the right length. Too long, and you’ll risk rambling (and/or boring the recruiter); but too short, and you’re unlikely to have covered everything. Aim for half a side of A4 (or one page maximum), and you’ll be on the right track.”

DO Include Your Contact Info

Many people think that by including their contact info in their CV, recruiters should be able to track them down easily. But career pros agree that adding your contact details to the top of a cover letter only helps to make things clearer. “Begin by listing your contact information clearly and obviously,” advise the experts from Indeed. “Often, applicants do this at the top of the document, but you should mirror the placement of your contact information on your resume or CV for consistency and professionalism. Include, at a minimum, your full name, phone number, email address and date. You may also choose to include your street address and links to your professional website or professional social media pages.”

DO Consider Salary Expectations 

This one largely depends on the context – and specifically the job ad – but if you’ve been asked to provide salary expectations, then the cover letter is the place to do so. However, if the job spec isn’t specific, it’s best to avoid it at this stage. Most experts will tell you that when it comes to job applications, employers are looking for candidates that can follow directions. So, if the advert doesn’t mention anything about your current salary or expectations, you’re probably safest leaving it out of your cover letter for the time being. 

Sending out a generic letter for all applications rarely yields positive results and recruiters can spot your lack of time and effort from a mile away.

DON’T Forget To Tailor It

According to Jemma, you should rewrite your cover letter every time you apply for a position in order to better target the company you want to work for. “Sending out a generic letter for all applications rarely yields positive results and recruiters can spot your lack of time and effort from a mile away,” she warns. And while using buzzwords and key adjectives on your CV can get it past certain automated systems, your cover letter is the time to sound like a human, not a robot. “A few keywords are necessary, but they should be used to elaborate on who you are, what you’ve done in the past, and what you’re able to do in the future,” says Jen Sweeney from Live Career. “Never just toss key terms and industry jargon into a cover letter.”

DON’T Rehash Your Resume 

On that note, it’s crucial not to spend hours and paragraphs simply reiterating the information already included in your CV. According to Jemma: “The opening statement should set out why you're writing the letter. Begin by stating the position you're applying for, where you saw it advertised and when you are available to start. In the second paragraph, cover why you're suitable for the job, what attracted you to this type of work, why you're interested in working for the company and what you can offer the organisation. In the third, highlight your relevant experience and demonstrate how your skills match the specific requirements of the job description. Use the closing paragraph to round up your letter – reiterate your interest in the role and indicate your desire for a personal interview.”

DON’T Underestimate Your USP

When you’re running through your specific experience and skills, experts agree it’s worth highlighting your unique selling point – aka what makes you in particular the best fit for the role. Jemma explains: “Be positive about what you have to offer and clearly outline how your skills and experience meet those requested in the job description. Demonstrate why you're the perfect candidate.” Then, on your CV, remember to back up the claims in your cover letter with real evidence or examples that show how and when you've used those skills and experience, and how you intend to translate them in your next job.

DON’T Bash Your Old Employer

It should really go without saying, but your cover letter is not the time to go into personal detail about why you want to leave your current job. For that reason, it’s best to avoid including any negative comments about your current or previous employer as part of why you are looking for work. Employers tend to view such comments as an indication of possible attitude or performance problems, so keep your letter positive and focused on why you're the right person for the job.

DON’T Ignore The Call To Action

Sometimes referred to as a ‘CTA’, the call to action is one of the most fundamental parts of a cover letter. “An example might be asking the hiring manager to call you for more information or to view your professional website for examples of your work,” suggest the experts at Indeed. “The hiring manager should know what you expect from them when they finish reading your cover letter.” And as for the final sign off? Go with ‘Yours sincerely’ if you know the name of the hiring manager, or ‘Yours faithfully’ if you don’t. Simple. 

DON’T Disregard Proofreading

If there’s one golden rule you take away, make it this. “Never rely on a computer spellcheck program to pick up every mistake,” warns Jemma. “Print off your cover letter and double-check for spelling and grammar errors before passing it to a family member or friend to look over. Also, make sure that your own contact details and the company name are correct.” 
 
For more information on finding a job and writing the cover letters and CVs visit Reed.co.uk; Indeed.co.uk; Prospects.co.uk; LiveCareer.com.

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