A Step-by-Step Guide to Writing the Perfect Cover Letter

Ever find yourself in the middle of a job application, desperately Googling for application ideas and cover letter inspiration? Well friend, Google no more. We are building your definitive guide to job applications. Step one: the cover letter…

There are some basic skills in life that everyone needs to learn such as: how to rewire a plug; how to make a meal from whatever’s left in your fridge; how to perform at least one entertaining party trick, and how to write a decent cover letter.

For many people, the letter of motivation is the biggest stumbling block when it comes to applying for a job. People dread writing it and rightly so. It’s hard to strike a balance between formal respectfulness, and sparkling employable charm. How do you set the register right so that it speaks to exactly what the employer has in mind? How much information is too much? How can you sell your skills without coming across as a shameless self-promoter?

We’re about to break it down so that you can easily write a cover letter that’ll knock the socks of potential employers. You may as well just started preparing for interviews pronto!

Step One: Sketch a Skeleton

This sounds spookier than it is. Sorry. Read the job description thoroughly and pick two or three requirements that correspond with your experience that you’d like to address in your letter. At this point, you need to decide what you want to emphasise about yourself and your abilities, and how you can best get these across to a potential employer. Make a bulleted list of all the info points you need to include in your application, divided into three sections. These points will form the structure around which you can build your letter.

  • Paragraph 1: introductory info and reason you’re interested in the position
    • your name
    • declaration of intent
    • name of desired position
    • reason for interest in the position
  • Paragraph 2: reasons you’re a good fit for the position and the company
    • chosen job requirements
    • your corresponding experience
    • example of your proficiency with each
  • Paragraph 3: display of research and closing remarks
    • explicit reasons this company interests you
    • closing statement underlining your interest in the position
    • sign-off

Step Two: Choose the Correct Tone

Cover letters are so hard because they need to be as unique as you are, while still adopting the correct tone and level of formality. When you’re deciding on how to write the letter, look at the company website, and see how they address their clients and present themselves. If they’re a rather formal, traditional company, you need to match that tone with a business-like approach. If they’re a more informal, younger company, you can afford to be a little more loose with your language. Here are some good examples of letters with different tones. Don’t forget, writing formally doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be void of personality. You just have to express yourself within a more restricted structure.

Step Three: Write The Intro

Your first paragraph should state who you are, what job you’re applying for – make sure to give the full job title –, where you came across the position advertisement, and why the recruiter should bother taking notice of your application. This needs to be short and snappy and to the point. Make sure to do a little research into the company, and if no point of contact is listed alongside the job description, phone them up to ask who you should address your letter to. Addressing your letter ‘To whom it may concern’, ‘Dear Sir/Madam’, or to the wrong person entirely just looks lazy.

Step Four: Show Why You’re Perfect For The Job

The second paragraph is the real meat of the letter and this is your chance to impress. Remember to only include crucial information, and don’t go overboard with long-winded explanations. Mentally divide this paragraph into three sections. In each section, you need to address three points: a requirement from the job description; the reason you meet this requirement; an example that shows why this is true. Don’t include anything superfluous, keep language tight and snappy, and maintain the tone throughout. Close this paragraph with a brief sentence to explain that these are just a small illustration of your suitability for this role, and that you would be happy to expand on it at interview.

Step Four: Leave Them Wanting More

The closing paragraph is your chance to show off your research, and of course, to cement their interest in inviting you for interview. Explain why this particular company ignites your interest. A good idea here is to look into their ethics, their projects and their larger goals. Explain why these excite you and why you want to be part of the team that realises their vision. Reiterate your interest enthusiastically, but make sure not to go overboard with hyperbole as it will come across as fake and overly ingratiating. Close with a sentence expressing that you’re looking forward to their response and that you hope to have the opportunity to discuss the position in greater detail. Now, here comes the business English. If you’ve written to someone who you’ve addressed by name (which really, you should) e.g. Dear Ms. Smith sign off with “Yours sincerely”. If you’ve written to “Dear Sir/Madam” or “Dear HR Team” (but please don’t!), you can sign off with “Yours faithfully”.

Don’t Forget!

Keep it Short

A cover letter is not an essay. It’s a short introduction designed to capture the interest of a recruiter and to give them a sense of who you are, and how you could fit into their company. Keep your sentences short, use active, direct language, and provide short examples where you need to. Remember that this is just an intro, not a deep-dive into your life story.

Focus on the Company

To paraphrase JFK, this is not about what the company can do for you, but what you can do for the company. If you focus on their needs and goals and how you could be instrumental to how they achieve them, you will be a very appealing candidate.

Show a Little Personality

Even if you need to write a very formal letter, you should still make sure that they get a sense of who you are. If you have facility with language, give a little taste of your personality. Even if words aren’t your bag, it’s important to at least try to get across a sense of who you are. If the company don’t connect with you, then chances are you don’t want to work for them!

Carrie M. King

Carrie M. King

Carrie M. King is the Editor of the Journal by Jobspotting. Hailing originally from smack-bang in the middle of Ireland, she moved to Berlin in 2014 to join the gang at Jobspotting. Carrie previously worked in journalism and literature. If you want to share thoughts or ideas, get in touch: carrie@jobspotting.com