Writing a cover letter; The definitive guide

Writing a cover letter; The definitive guide

A cover letter is a crucial part of applying for a job. They help you stand out from the crowd and identify you amongst a mass of CVs. Basically, it is your time to shine. To help with this, there are a few standard do and don’ts with cover letters.

There are different types of cover letters

If you are applying for a specific position at a company, all you need is a standard cover letter, which is the basic one. However if you are applying not necessarily for a position, more a connection, then a networking letter is what you need. Finally, the last option is a prospecting letter which is your time to show off in order to inquire about any opening that might be available. These are good for internships.

Don’t repeat your CV

Your CV should give the information like qualifications and skills. Your cover letter is about demonstrating your enthusiasm for the job as well as emphasising that you will fit in at the company and hold the same ethos. It is also important to show your communication skills, as most jobs will need someone who can communicate effectively, both written and orally.

Writing a cover letter; The definitive guide

Personalise your cover letter

If this is for a specific position, find out who you should be addressing, Formal terms like sir/madam are always polite, but if you do your research and find out who is the hiring manager or whom you will be reporting too, it helps you to stand out from the crowd. Addressing people by name always creates a more positive response than a generic cover letter that you could have sent out to 20 other jobs. However, if the person you are sending the letter to is John Smith, you still don’t start with “Hi John”, it is far better to say “Dear Mr Smith”.

Don’t get lost in masses of information

It is always better to look at examples rather than try and guess the best way to write a cover letter. The important part of a cover letter is that it is well written. This shows organisation as well as someone who is a competent writer. Looking at examples on job sites such as Reed will help you with both structure and content.

Writing a cover letter; The definitive guide


Including the right keywords could mean you get a second glance at your cover letter and CV as opposed to those that they throw away. Ensuring you pick the right key words is simple, focus on the job listing and the words that they use. This emphasises the skills they are after, whether its desired personality traits or required qualifications. Making it clear you have these means you are far more likely to be invited for an interview. Also when I say make it clear, don’t highlight them in bold, just be sure to include them.

There is still a fine line with keywords though, don’t saturate your cover letter with them. You still need to show that you have a personality as opposed to a robot built for that job.

Writing a cover letter; The definitive guide

Do write a different letter for each application

Giving out the same letter for every job application screams lazy. Using a generic format for it is fine but make sure to differentiate in terms of skills and what each job is specifically asking for.


It is fine to be detailed and to use the keywords from the job listing, but don’t get bogged down in writing down every way in which you are perfect for the job. Your cover letter should not be longer than a page and should only have about 5 paragraphs maximum. When you are invited for an interview, that is the time and place to share your ideas and insights.

Writing a cover letter; The definitive guide


It can be easy to write a cover letter out fast and send it off (particularly if you have done enough of them) however it is always important to check before you send it off. The cover letter is what shows the real you to the employer and you want the real you to have perfect spelling and grammar. Or potentially you don’t want to have mixed your cover letters up and you think you’re applying to be a librarian but your cover letter is for a referee at a football game.

Asking other people to check it over is always a good idea too, they can help see any clunky phrases or any sentences that just don’t quite make sense. Ensuring all of these are done helps really hit home the impact you want your cover letter to gave.

Writing a cover letter; The definitive guide

Doing all these won’t guarantee you a job but they will help you to stand out from the crowd and subsequently be invited for an interview. This is the first step towards getting the job that you want.

Writing a cover letter; The definitive guide

Helen Rodgers

Lifestyle / Employment Writer. Helen studies Ancient History at the University of Nottingham and writes a weekly article on balancing student and working life.

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