A cover letter is a formal letter that you use when applying for jobs, and it supports your CV. The idea behind a cover letter is to introduce yourself and explain how you are relevant for this specific position, and why you want to work in this specific position.
There is no right or wrong way to create a cover letter, but if you follow the guidelines below you can be assured that your letter will cover all the important information. The first and most important thing is to thoroughly read through the job description, and to fully understand (note it down if possible) exactly what the specific role is seeking. Do they want someone used to working in a high-pressured environment? In this particular role is it important that you can work alone and motivate yourself? It will be different for every single job, and it’s imperative that you look at the skillset described before you write your letter. When job applications come to an organisation, often many applications are coming to a Human Resources manager or one single person, who will then short list them before sending the short-list over to a panel. To short-list the applications, they will note down which applications appear to match the job description for that role; so therefore, if you ensure that your cover letter explains why you fit this specific job description, you’re more likely to secure an interview.
Your letter should include:
- Introduction: you should state the position you are applying to (e.g. ‘I wish to apply for the post of research coordinator at the Clinical Trials Unit’).
- Why this job? An explanation of why you are the perfect person for this specific role, and what you will bring to the organisation
- Why me? An explanation why they would choose you - how your past experience and skill set will make you an asset to this specific role
- Conclusion: A brief paragraph thanking the person for their time and saying you hope to hear from them soon.
Ideally your cover letter should be around one page in length, and certainly no more than two pages. It should be clearly written, concise, and formally laid out (even if it’s typed and emailed).
Top 5 things NOT to do in your cover letter
- Repeat your CV. You’ll be sending your CV on to the employer as well, so there’s no point in reiterating it here. Instead use the cover letter to explain why you’re the right person for the job.
- Be generic. It’s important NOT to simply send a generic cover letter, but instead that you make sure you write the cover letter individually for every job you apply to. It does take time, but it’s a real time investment and you’re unlikely to secure interviews without giving specific information for each role.
- Be informal. Remember that your cover letter is representing you and is giving the employer a first impression of what you are like. If you write informally, or use abbreviations, you will make the person think you are unprofessional.
- Forget to check your spelling and grammar. Again, this will make you appear slapdash and may mean you aren’t shortlisted.
- Write too much or too little. Remember that the employer will have lots of cover letters to read, so yours should be succinct, clear, and professional. One page is perfect.
Top 5 Things to make your cover letter stand out
- Make it relevant to the job you’re applying for
- Explain why you want to work for this specific organisation (e.g. this research group, not just this university)
- Write out the key points in the job description, e.g. the Essential and Desirable criteria, the key aspects of the person specification such as ‘able to work to tight deadlines’), and then make sure that you mention each of these in context while explaining why you are suitable.
- Get someone else to read the letter, not only to check for spelling mistakes, but also to make sure that it is clear, relevant, and reads smoothly.
- Present the information professionally: present it like a formal letter, with your address and the date at the top. Use a smart font (e.g. arial – not comic sans!), and use black and no colours.