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Writing a Cover Letter

Your cover letter is the first thing a recruiter or potential employer will see, so it has to make a strong impact.

The purpose of a cover letter is to introduce your CV in the best way possible. There is no such thing as the perfect cover letter, but following a basic pointers will help make your letter a worthy build-up to your CV. It should make a strong impact - strong enough to make the reader want to know more about you.

Each cover letter you write should be tailored to suit the particular job you are applying for. It’s your opportunity to demonstrate that you are the right 'fit' for the right job.

Examine your career history for specific examples of how you can demonstrate you have what the employer is looking for - e.g. the job advertisement says "This position requires an outgoing person with demonstrated capacity to work in a team". The keywords here are "outgoing", "demonstrated" and "team". Show you meet these essential criteria to increase your chances of an interview.

Your cover letter should be in line with your CV by highlighting the most relevant aspects in relation to the position. Don’t rush writing the cover letter. If you don’t impress with the cover letter you are leaving yourself open to being passed over for the job simply because another candidate wrote a better one!

Stages of Writing a Cover Letter

Paragraph 1 - Explain why you are writing. Make sure it entices the reader to read on. If you are replying to an advert, say where and when you saw the advert and if there is a reference number, quote it. Ensure you have researched the company, job and current industry trends before writing the cover letter.

Paragraph 2 - Briefly explain your job and, if applicable, qualifications (professional and/or academic). Don't give too much away or they may not want to go on and read your CV. If you are replying to an advert, make sure the skills you specified are reflected in your CV.

Paragraph 3 - Say why they should employ you and why you would be a good employee. Tell the company a little about themselves (e.g. "As the largest publishing company in Ireland"), to demonstrate you know something about them.

Paragraph 4 - Propose an action plan. Say you would like the opportunity to meet them for an interview and that you'll await their response, and you will call in a few days to see if this is appropriate. You don't have to leave the ball in their court, although be wary of seeming to 'pester'. If you say you are going to call, then make sure that you do.

Points to note

  • Make sure your cover letter is addressed to the right person at the right address
  • Ensure that you spell everything correctly! Also check for grammar and bad punctuation - one mistake could mean your application is rejected in favour of another candidate
  • Do not use ‘sir’ or ‘madam’ - do your homework and locate the appropriate contact information on the company website or LinkedIn for more information
  • Include all of your contact details, including address, phone numbers and email. Make it as easy as possible for the prospective employer to contact you. If they can't get in touch with you, you may not get to the interview stage
  • If you are posting your application, write and print your cover letter on good quality paper that matches the paper of your CV. Avoid coloured paper! For best results, stick to good quality, white or cream paper.
  • Use bullet points where possible - it will be easier and faster for the reader to scan. You should still include a proper introduction and ending though - bullets should be framed by proper paragraphs.
  • Make sure your letter is bespoke - customised to the particular job for which you are applying. Pick out specific traits or skills mentioned in the job ad and demonstrate why you think you are suitable.
  • Ensure that your cover letter is short, succinct and to the point - there is no reason to duplicate the details shown in your CV.

Finally, don’t use long words and complex language just to impress – use the kind of language you would normally use.

Never get someone else to write the cover letter for you, although it can be useful to have someone who knows you to read over it and give feedback.