How to write a cover letter

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A cover letter is a single-page letter that should be part of any job application.

The only time a cover letter shouldn't be included is when a job ad clearly says not to include one. At all other times you should include a cover letter.

Topics on this page include:

The purpose of a cover letter
How long should a cover letter be?
Matching your cover letter to the job 
What you should include in your cover letter
What you shouldn't include in your cover letter
Writing a cover letter when there's no job advertised
Email cover letters
What to do when only a cover letter is asked for
Cover letter templates

The purpose of a cover letter

A 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 read your resume 
  • finish with a call to action (for example, requesting an interview or asking to meet).

For more about each of these steps, check out "What to include on your cover letter" on this page.

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How long should a cover letter be?

A cover letter shouldn't be more than one page. It's only meant to be a summary of the information you put in your resume, so remember to keep things short.

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Matching your cover letter to the job

You should never use the same cover letter for different job applications. Your cover letter needs to show that you know what the job involves and what the organisation is looking for. 

To do this you need to be as specific as you can about your skills and qualities and how they match the job or organisation's needs.

Here are three simple ways to make your cover letter as specific as possible:

1. Find out who to address it to

Try not to address your letter "To Whom It May Concern" if you can. Finding out who to address your application to takes a little bit of effort, but it's worth it.

If you found the job in an ad, the ad will probably name a person to send the application to. If not, contact the employer or advertiser and ask who to send the application to. It's best to call if you can, but you can also email them if you don't have a contact phone number for them.

If you manage to find out the person's name, don't use their first name. Use either "Mr." or "Ms." and their last name instead.

2. Find out more about the job

When finding out who to address your application to, you could also try to contact that person so you can ask questions that can help you match your cover letter (and resume) to the job.

Questions you could ask include: 

  • Does the job involve working as part of a team?
  • Who would I be reporting to if I got the job? 
  • Can you tell me more about the kind of people you're looking for?
  • Is there a position description I can look at (only ask this if the job ad didn't mention a position description)?

The answers to these questions can give you some ideas for things to mention in your cover letter.

3. Find out more about the company

Finding out more about a company is another good way to work out how to tailor your cover letter. Here are some tips: 

  • If you know the name of the company, look for information online.
  • If the company has a website, visit it (especially their About Us page).
  • If the company name isn't in the ad, call the recruitment agency or advertiser and ask who the employer is.

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What you should include in your cover letter

Here's a list of things you should include in your cover letter. For examples of how to include these things, visit our Sample resumes and cover letters page.

Your name and contact details

Put your name and contact details at the top of your cover letter. You don't have to give your postal address, but you do need to include your email and phone number.

Make sure you'll be able to answer the number you give. Don't give your landline number if you're not going to be home to answer it.

Your email address should create a professional impression. Don't use an email address like yolo@zapbangpowdude.co.uk

If you don't have a professional email address, you can make one with a free email provider. Make it simple - something like your first name and your last name is a good way to go. 

Their name and contact details

Under your own name and contact details you should include: 

  • the name of the person you're writing to 
  • their position or the name of their company 
  • their contact details.

If you're having trouble finding this information you can call the company to ask who you should address your application to.

You can also use "To Whom It May Concern", but try to only use this as a last resort.

The name of the job you're going for

At the start of your cover letter you need to explain which job you're applying for. 

You can either do this on a line by itself (for example, "Re: Application for Stock Controller position") or in the opening paragraph (for example, "I am writing to apply for the recently advertised Stock Controller position.")

For examples of how to do this, visit our Sample cover letters page.

A list of your relevant skills

Your letter should include a brief summary that matches your skills and experiences to the job description. A short bullet-pointed list is fine.

If you're answering a job ad, either the ad or the position description may provide a list of skills and experiences that are essential for doing the job. It may also provide a list of "desirable" skills and experience. Your cover letter needs to respond to all of the items on the "essential" list and as many items as possible on the "desirable" list in as short a way as possible.

Remember that if you say you have a skill or experience, you need to show how you've used it or how you got it (for example, if you say you've got child-minding skills, mention some jobs where you've used them).

For examples of how to do this, visit our Sample cover letters page.

A summary of why you're right for the job

After listing your skills and experience you should explain why these mean you're suited to the job (for example, "The combination of my interest in AFL and my experience with book-keeping makes me ideally suited for this job.")

For examples of how to do this, visit our Sample cover letters page.

Speak their language

Using the same language as people who do a particular job is a good way to convince people you're suited to the job.

Getting familiar with what a company does and how it talks about itself can give you ideas about things to mention in your cover letter, and how to talk about them.

For example, if there's a tool or software or skill the job requires, like machining tools or cash handling, mention it in your cover letter (but make sure you mention it correctly!).

Visit the "Matching your cover letter to the job" section on this page for tips on finding out more about a company.

Ask them to read your resume & contact you

Your cover letter should finish by asking the reader to read your resume. It should also ask them to contact you about an interview.

Try something simple like, "I have attached a copy of my resume. I look forward to hearing from you about this job."

For more examples of ways to finish a cover letter, visit our Sample cover letters page.

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What you shouldn't include in your cover letter

Just as important as the things you should include on your cover letter are the things that should never be on your cover letter. Here are some things to watch out for.

Typos or mistakes

Always spellcheck your cover letter. It's even better to get someone else to read it and point out any mistakes or confusing things. People you could ask to read over your cover letter include friends, family members, your careers teacher or a careers counsellor at your university or TAFE.

Double-check everything in your cover letter. If you mention a company's name, make sure you get it right. If you mention places you've worked before, make sure you get their names right too. Mistakes on cover letters are worse than typos.

Including your whole resume

Don't cut and paste your resume into your cover letter. Try to re-word the information on your resume rather than just repeating it. Keep your cover letter short and let your resume tell the whole story.

Using "I" too much

Try to make sure that you don't fill your cover letter with things like "I believe", "I have" and "I am". 

Once you've written your letter, read over it and try to take out or rewrite as many sentences that start with "I" as you can.

Don't mention your other job applications

You'll probably have more than one job application on the go at any one time. It's important, though, not to mention other job applications. You're trying to convince people you really want the job. It's hard to do that if they know you're looking for other jobs as well.

Even though most people assume you're applying for more than one job at a time, it's a good idea not to act like you are.

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Writing a cover letter when there's no job advertised

Sometimes you might want to work for a particular business or organisation even though there haven't been any jobs advertised with them. This is often called "cold calling".

Contacting a business directly to ask if there are any jobs available can show that you're motivated and enthusiastic. It could even get you a job.

Even if there's no job currently available, there's a chance the business could keep your details on file and get in touch when a job does become available.

A cold-calling cover letter can be written like any other cover letter, with just a few differences. It should:

  • show you've researched the organisation or business and know about what it does
  • mention why you're interested in working for them (in terms of what they do and your own long-term goals)
  • show how your skills, experience and interest fit in with the goals of the business or organisation
  • let them know what you're hoping for (for example, you might want to know about positions currently available or speak to someone about what it's like to work there)
  • finish the letter by saying that you'll contact them again soon, but that you're happy to talk to them if they want to contact you before that.

If you haven't heard back in a couple of weeks, it's okay to contact them again to ask for a response. You could try emailing them or calling them to discuss your letter directly.

Our Cold calling cover letter template is an example of this kind of cover letter. For more information about approaching organisations and businesses directly, visit our Cold calling - What is it? page.

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Email cover letters

Sometimes you'll be asked to send your cover letter as an email instead of a separate document. If this happens you should: 

  • write your name and the job title in the email subject line (for example, " Jayani Lal - Application for Administration Assistant role")
  • remember you still need to use the name of the person you're writing to
  • avoid formatting the body of the email like a letter - leave out the contact details and just go straight to the "Dear XXXX" part.
  • end the email with a professional signature that includes your phone number
  • always send the email from a professional email address.

For more about email cover letters, visit our Sample cover letters page and choose the email cover letter template that matches your level of experience.

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What to do when only a cover letter is asked for

Some organisations may specifically ask you to respond to requirements of the job in a one-page cover letter instead of submitting a resume.

When this happens it's important to link your experience to the job's requirements in your cover letter. When writing this kind of cover letter you should:

  • include contact details (yours and theirs), a reference line and a brief introduction to yourself, as advised in "What to include in your cover letter", section on this page.
  • briefly summarise your experience
  • use bullet points to clearly outline each requirement and how you meet it 
  • conclude by asking them to contact you, as advised in "What to include in your cover letter" on this page.

For more about this kind of cover letter, visit our Sample cover letters page and choose the "Cover letter only" template that matches your level of experience.

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Cover letter templates

For more examples of ways to write a cover letter, visit our Sample cover letters page, featuring templates you can download use to create your own cover letter.

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