How to Write a Cover Letter
A cover letter is a single-page letter that should always accompany any resume, folio or application documents that you send to a prospective employer.
You might be applying for a specific, advertised job, or you might be contacting a potential employer to see if they have any vacancies. Either way, your cover letter needs to:
- Introduce you
- Mention the job (or kind of job) you're applying for (or looking for)
- Match your skills and experiences with the skills and experiences required by the job
- Encourage the reader to want to know more about you by reading your resume
- Finish with a call to action - e.g., requesting an interview (if it's a specific job) or meeting (to discuss more general work prospects)
Make Your Cover Letter Specific
You should never write one cover letter and then use it for lots of different job applications.
Your cover needs to demonstrate that you know what the job requires and that you are familiar with the company. The way that you do this is by being as specific as you can about the job you're applying for, and the skills that you have that match the skills required by the job.
Here are some simple ways to make your cover letter as specific as possible:
Find Out Who to Address it To
You should never address your letter "To Whom It May Concern". Finding out who to address your application takes a little bit of effort, but it's worth it.
If you found the job in an ad somewhere, the ad will probably mention the name of the person you're supposed to send the application to. If not, call the employer or recruitment agency (don't email them) and ask for the name of the correct person to send the application to.
Find Out More About the Job
When calling to find out who to address your application to, if it's possible, you should also ask to speak to that person so you can ask some other questions that will help you to tailor both your resume and your cover letter. Questions you might consider asking include:
- What can you tell me about the job?
- What can you tell me about the ideal candidate for the job?
- Is there a position description that I can look at? (only ask this if the job ad didn't mention a position description)
- Are you expecting any internal applicants? (If they are, you could ask them if they think the internal applicant(s) are well suited to the role)
The answers to these questions will give you a good idea of what kind of things you should mention in your cover letter.
Find Out More About the Company
Finding out more about the company that you're sending your application to is also a good way to work out how to tailor your cover letter.
If you know the name of the company the job is with, spend some time online looking for information about them. If they have their own website, check it out, especially things like their About Us pages. If the name of the company isn't mentioned in the ad, call the recruitment agency and ask them who the employer is.
Speak Their Language
Using the same language as people who do a particular job, or who work for a particular company is a good way to convince an employer or recruiter that you're suited for the job. Getting familiar with what a company does and how it talks about itself can give you ideas about what things to mention in your cover letter, and how to talk about them.
For example, if there is a particular kind of tool or software or a particular skill that the job requires, you should mention it in your cover letter - but make sure you mention it correctly! If your cover letter shows that you "speak the same language" as a company, you'll improve your chances of seeming like a good fit for the job.
What to Include in a Cover Letter
Your cover letter needs to show that you understand the job requirements and that you can do the job. To do this you need to include a brief summary of the skills and experiences you have that match the job description. A bullet-pointed list mentioning each of your relevant skills or experiences is fine.
If you say that you have a particular skill or experience, you need to mention - briefly - an example of how you have used it. If you say that you have child-minding experience, for example, you need to mention that you got it by working at your local after school care program for two years.
You also need to show that you are enthusiastic and professional, and that you have a positive attitude towards the job and the company.
What Not to Include in a Cover Letter
Here is a list of things that you should NOT include in your cover letter:
Typos or Factual Errors
You should at least spellcheck your cover letter, but it's even better to get someone else to look at it and point out any mistakes or confusing things. People you can ask include friends, family members, your careers teacher or a careers counsellor at your university or TAFE.
Double-check everything that you write about in your cover letter. If you mention the company's name, make sure you get it right. If you mention the name of places you've worked before, make sure you get that right. Mistakes on cover letters are worse than typos.
Your Entire Resume
Don't just cut and paste your resume into your cover letter. A cover letter needs to be a brief summary of your skills and experience that encourages the reader to want to read your resume. Keep it short and let your resume tell the whole story.
Using "I" Too Much
Your cover letter is about you, but try to make sure that you don't fill it with things like "I believe", "I have" and "I am". Once you've written your letter, look over it and see if you can take out or rewrite any sentences that start with "I".
Cover Letter Templates
For examples of ways to write a cover letter, check out our Sample Resumes and Cover Letters page for some templates that you can download use to create your own cover letter.