How to write a winning cover letter
It's easier than you think
Cover letters are your ticket to job interviews, especially when you don’t have much work experience. So how can you write a cover letter that will make an employer eager to meet you? This guide will help you write cover letters with confidence.
For many people, this is the trickiest part of applying for any job or apprenticeship - so if you’re stressed, you’re not alone! But once you learn some basic tricks, the whole process becomes way simpler. Let’s take it step by step.
Step 1 - Read the job/apprenticeship description
Yes, we know this one seems a bit obvious, but when we say ‘read’ we really mean dissect. Figure out exactly what these guys want from their ideal applicant. If you’re lucky, they’ll have provided a handy bullet point list. If not, just highlight key words and create your own. Here’s an example adapted from a real job listing:
The Assistant Events Administrator will have a varied set of duties in a busy cultural organisation with a regional reputation. Duties will include:
• Recording appointments in the online calendar
• Assisting the booking of travel and accommodation for visiting artists and speakers
• Planning and scheduling pre-approved social media posts to market company activity
• Researching purchases required for upcoming performances or demonstrations
• Helping with online book-keeping entries to record company finance
• Attending company meetings as required
• Helping organise summer education programming
• Coordinating/preparing event spaces classes and hires where possible
• General project support for the team as required
Hopefully, your list will look a little like this one:
- Strong organisational skills
- Decent with maths (also called numeracy)
- Able to balance a lot of different tasks
- Good at working and communicating with lots of different people
Step 2: Answer these three easy questions
1. Why do you want to work (or complete an apprenticeship) with this company?
Do your research. Explore the company’s website, blog, and social media channels to find out what they’ve been up to recently, what they care about, and what makes them stand out from the rest. If you’re going for an apprenticeship, you might want to mention something specific about the training programme they offer.
This section doesn’t need to be long, but it does need to be relevant and personal to you. Avoid things like ‘it’s always been my dream to work here,’ especially if it’s a famous company - they’ve heard it before, and it doesn’t make you stand out. If you have a longstanding personal connection to the company, it’s better to share that specifically. Instead, think of something specific - ‘Your commitment to helping underserved communities in our local area is so important to me as a lifelong native of this city,’ for example. You’ve not only highlighted something specific about their work (which shows you’ve done your research), but you’ve explained why it matters to you personally.
2. Why do you want this particular job/apprenticeship?
Again, start with some research. If it isn’t clear on the job or apprenticeship description, find out exactly what this role will involve and be honest about why you want to pursue it. Unifrog has some great guides to specific roles in the Careers Library, and the National Careers Service is another good source.
Of course, we all want a job to make some money, or because it is the entry-level role for a career we’re interested in pursuing. But try to get more specific than that. For example, ‘I’m interested in joining your team as an administrative assistant because I’m hoping to gain more experience in a fast-paced corporate environment.’
3. What makes you a good candidate for this job/apprenticeship?
This is the most important section, so spend some time on it. This part is challenging, especially if you’re used to advice that tells you that this is where you need to prove you’re ‘the best.’ That feels like boasting, and can be uncomfortable - plus, how can you know if you really are?! Well, you can’t. All you can do is demonstrate that you’re a good fit for the things they’re looking for, which is a much easier task.
Go back to the list you made back in step one and think of an example from your work experience - or school, clubs, or hobbies if you haven’t worked much - that demonstrates that you possess that skill.
You don’t want to say, ‘I am very organised’ - instead you want to say, ‘When I became secretary of my school’s bottle cap collecting club, I completely reorganised our membership records so that we could keep in better contact with our alumni. I transferred everything to a new online database and set up a new sign-up system so that everyone’s information would be automatically saved when they joined.’
That example shows them your passion for organisation, rather than just having to take your word for it.
Don't worry if you don't have any extra-curricular, volunteering, or work experience to talk about. You can use real life examples too. For example, you can mention being the family member in charge of everyone's calendars at home.
Step 3: Add a beginning and an end
Keep it simple. The beginning just needs to shout out why you’re writing, including the name of the position and where you saw it listed.
You don’t have to worry about getting too creative at the end, either. ‘Thank you for your consideration, I hope we will have the opportunity to discuss this role further’ does just fine!
Step 4: Get the formatting right
The hard bit is over! Now it’s all about looks.
- Make sure the cover letter is no more than one page in length
- Use the formal business letter layout for your country. If you’re in the UK, use ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ and ‘yours faithfully’ if you don’t know who you’re sending it to, or ‘Dear Mr / Ms [name]’ and ‘yours sincerely’ if you do. In the US, ‘To the hiring manager’ or ‘To whom it may concern’ are both perfectly acceptable when you don’t know the name.
- Give your letter a title or subject line, e.g. ‘Re. application for position as animal care assistant’
- Proofread your letter and make sure you check for any spelling, punctuation or grammar errors. Don’t rely on computer spell checks - they miss things out. Ask a friend, teacher, or family member to double check your letter before you send it.
- Use a plain type face - Arial size 11 is very common for formal letters. Whichever you choose, make sure it matches your CV.
Now all that’s left to do is send it off, along with a copy of your CV! As frustrating as it is to wait, try to avoid the temptation to follow up if you don’t hear back right away. If they want to speak to you, they aren’t just going to forget to let you know!
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