Writing Effective Cover Letters

Tracey Mottershead
26 September 2016

You’re out shopping for a new dress and have a good idea about what you want to buy, but you’re leaving your options open.  Often it’s the store window display, their visual merchandising, the ‘look’, that makes you want to walk in and buy. The same goes with effective cover letters.  That one page note is your personal shop-front when applying for roles and it will either entice a recruiter to investigate further, or encourage them to move on to the next store without venturing in.

A cover letter is your introduction and it needs to motivate a potential employer to read your application and review your cv.  The letter needs to include a brief introduction of yourself and the reason you are writing – are you applying for an advertised role or simply expressing your interest in working for the organisation?  It should also include why you feel you are suitable for the position rather than leaving the reader to work that out for themselves.

Here’s my tips for a great cover letter.

  • Pick one simple font, it’s not the time to get fancy. I recommend Arial, Calibri and Times New Roman and the size should ideally be 10 – 12.  
  • Keep it short, ideally only 3-4 short paragraphs.
  • If printing it out, use good quality, plain paper, no colours or embossing.
  • Address the letter to an actual person rather than Dear Sir/Madam. One phone call is all it takes to find this out.
  • If there are selection criteria to be addressed, do so in a separate document, but mention this in your cover letter (the advertisement may expressly ask you to address the criteria within your cover letter, in which case, follow the advertisement).
  • Use the first paragraph to introduce yourself and explain why you are writing,
  • Use the next paragraph to summarise your relevant qualifications and experience.
  • If possible, make mention of the organisation and why you want to work there in the third paragraph.  It shows that your letter has been written for specifically for this application and is not generic.
  • Do everything requested within the advertisement, e.g. using the correct file format for online applications, the required number of referees, your expectations of salary, even the subject line of your email.  

Recruiters generally spend less than a minute per submission when doing a first review of applications, particularly if there has been significant interest in a role.  A great cover letter will not only get you through the initial ‘cull’, but will entice the recruiter to review your cv and put you in the pile of ‘to be considered’, rather than just the pile of ‘survived the cull’. 

You’ve spent a lot of time and effort building your career and preparing your cv, so don’t let your cover letter cause a prospective employer to keep walking – invite them in to see what you have to offer.