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What is a Cover Letter for a Resume

Do not under value the power of a cover letter. A cover letter might open the doors of an interview if you get it right.

What is a Cover Letter for a Resume
Photo of Brenna Goyette
Brenna Goyette
8 min read

Are you struggling to write the perfect cover letter for a job application? You certainly aren't the first person to find it tough. Working out what to include isn't straightforward, as there are so many things to think about.

There's little denying the importance of cover letters. In fact, a study from OfficeTeam found that 86 per cent of executives said that cover letters are valuable when evaluating job candidates. Therefore, getting your cover letter right could be the difference between getting an interview and missing out.

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The good news for you is that this guide is here to help you write the perfect cover letter, regardless of the job that you're applying for. We take you through everything you need to know about crafting the perfect cover letter and give you some handy tips to help you stand out from the crowd.

What is a cover letter?

First things first, let's talk about what a cover letter actually is. As the name suggests, it's the letter that you attach to a job application and is sometimes also referred to as a covering letter or application letter.

You should think of a cover letter as an opportunity to expand on the things that you've included in your resume and offer recruiters an insight into your personality, which will help them assess your suitability for the job in question.

Like your resume, it should be professional, concise, and to the point. You should always write a unique cover letter for every job you apply for and make sure it is specific and personalized.

What should I include in a cover letter?

One in two hiring managers considers attaching a personalized cover letter to your resume as the number one tactic to help boost your chances of landing an interview. It stands to reason that a well-written, informative cover letter significantly increases your chances of being recruited.

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To help you structure your cover letter, you can break it down into three key sections:

  1. Contact details, introduction & expression of interest.
  2. Supporting information that highlights your suitability for the job.
  3. Closing remarks that re-emphasize your strengths and includes a call to action.

Let's look at these three sections in more detail.

1. Contact details, introduction, and expression of interest

It would be fair to say that the art of letter writing isn't as popular today as it once was, but it's still a vitally important part of the job application process. You should include the following contact details at the top of the letter to get things started:

  • Full name
  • Mailing address
  • Personal phone number (include dialing code if you're applying for an international role)
  • Email address (make sure it's professional – yourfullname@gmail.com – works perfectly well)
  • LinkedIn profile (optional)

After your contact details, you then need to list the following:

  • Today's date
  • The person or department you're writing to. If there are no details of the hiring manager on the job listing, try and find out by sending an email or searching the company's website.
  • The address of the company and a reference to the position you're applying for.

If you're not sure about how to format a professional letter, check out this handy guide from How Stuff Works.

When you've included your contact details, it's time to get into the content. You should start your cover letter with a strong introduction that announces your intentions and your reason for getting in touch.

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Here are some things you should think about when writing your introduction:

  • Include an expression of interest. This is your chance to explain why you're applying for this job and how it fits into your overall career objectives.
  • Mention why you're suitable for the job and how your skills and experiences will add value to the company.
  • State your current situation. Tell the hiring manager that you're actively seeking a new position or are looking to advance your career by making a step up, for example.

Your introduction and expression of interest need to be engaging and concise. It should make the hiring manager want to read on and find out more. Avoid superfluous details and ensure it's relevant to the job you're applying for. You can add further details about your application in the following section.

2. Supporting information that highlights your suitability for the job.

Now that you've introduced yourself and your intentions, it's time to show the employer that you're the perfect person for the job.

You should keep this information limited to no more than two or three paragraphs and ensure it flows naturally from the information you've included in your resume.

The best cover letters expand on the details of the applicant's resume and offer supporting evidence for claims that you've made about your experience, skills, and education.

When drafting the main body of your cover letter, be sure to include the following:

  • Confident, evidence-based claims about how your past experiences will add value to the company. You can include professional achievements and awards, academic accomplishments that are relevant to the role, or perhaps previous promotions and roles that you're proud to have held.
  • Truthful information about completed projects and tasks that show your professional skills and capabilities. It's so important that you don't lie in your cover letter. In 2017, 85 per cent of HR professionals uncovered a lie or misrepresentation in a candidate's application during the screening process. If you lie, you're likely to get found out.
  • Details of how the new role fits within your career trajectory. If you're looking to switch companies, you should explain to the hiring manager why you see this as the perfect opportunity to do so. If you can articulate that it's part of your career progression, this will encourage them to consider you for the position.

The main section of your cover letter is an opportunity to show potential employers exactly why you are perfect for the job. Just make sure it's well-structured and flows well into the conclusion, which we’ll look at in more detail now.

3. Closing remarks that re-emphasize your strengths and includes a call to action.

Your closing remarks should bring the cover letter to a natural conclusion. Consider re-emphasizing the most important points that you've made within the letter, and don't forget to specify exactly what you're hoping to achieve in terms of the next steps. This is where a call to action comes in.

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Your call to action shouldn't be pushy or too forward, but it should show that you're confident and excited about the next steps. When writing your call to action, include the following information:

Specify what you hope are the realistic next steps. For instance, you might say that you would be thrilled to hear from the hiring manager with details about the interview process. This is a realistic expectation and shows that you're considering what's next.

  1. Tell them how they can get in touch with you. You can specify your preferred method of communication, whether it's phone or email, and put your contact details under your signature at the foot of the letter.
  2. Offer them further information. If you have a personal website that introduces your portfolio or would like them to check out your LinkedIn profile, you can include this as a call to action. This gives them the chance to find out more about you before your interview and can be helpful for both parties.

When you're happy with your three sections, it's time to sign off professionally and courteously. Go with something like 'Kind Regards' and sign it with your full name. If possible, include your handwritten signature, as this adds to the professionalism of the letter.

Top tips to consider when writing your cover letter

Now that you've got a clear idea of the structure and what to include in your cover letter, here are some top tips that will help you craft a letter that is sure to grab the attention of potential employers:

  • Always run your cover letter through a spell checker like Grammarly before sending it off to the hiring manager. If they notice any grammatical mistakes, they're likely just to discard it before reading it through.
  • Don't be too casual in your tone. Even if you're familiar with the person that you're writing to, don't adopt an informal tone when writing your letter. This will come across as unprofessional and won't look good to a hiring manager.
  • Avoid bad-mouthing former employers. Even if you're looking to switch companies because you're unhappy at your current job, bad-mouthing your current or previous employer is an absolute no-no.
  • Ask a friend or family member to proofread your letter before you send it. Asking someone you trust to cast an eye over your letter before you send it can be really helpful. They will tell you if it doesn't read well or if it can be improved.

Closing thoughts

So, there you have it! Everything you need to know about writing the perfect cover letter to accompany your resume when applying for a job.

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As you can see, there's an awful lot to think about when drafting your cover letter, so be sure to plan your time accordingly and leave yourself enough time before the deadline, so you don't have to rush your letter.

Remember, it's the perfect opportunity to provide your potential employer with more information about your suitability for the job, so you don't want to mess it up!

Hopefully, this guide will help you prepare a professional cover letter that will boost your chances of getting your dream job.