A cover letter is as likely to be an email these days – but however you send that (often fiendishly difficult to write) accompaniment to your CV, make sure it shines. It has as crucial a role in getting your foot in the door as your CV itself. So, why do some applicants give them so little thought or, as many hiring managers will testify, don’t even bother writing one at all?
A well written cover letter, according to one hiring manager, 'should work in harmony with your CV. Use it to express your interest in the job and to highlight why you are a good fit for the role.'
Here are some more tips for writing a cover letter that will be sure to impress.
The first step is to find out who to address your cover letter to. Use Google to research who the hiring manager might be. It’s more impressive if you’ve made the effort to find out someone’s name. If the job specification does not state a name then you should write ‘Dear Sir or Madam’. If it does, then write Dear, followed by their name.
Research, research, research
Conduct some research on the company you are applying to. This includes:
- What the company does and its culture
- Any latest positive news about the company
- Who might their competitors be and how does this firm differentiate itself
- Why your skills match the job description
- Make notes from the above points.
You can weave this research into your cover letter.
The structure of your cover letter
The cover letter should be no longer than four paragraphs and the opening paragraph should state where you heard about the opportunity, and should contain a sentence outlining why you are applying for that position.
In your second paragraph, you should explain how your skills and experience match the job specification. Feel free to match specific words in the job description. If the advertisement calls for a ‘self-starting problem-solver’, say that’s what you are, but give a concrete example of how you’ve proved that in a previous job.
Give any additional detail that is not in your CV or that expands on something in your CV that is particularly relevant to this role and might set you apart from the competition. Hiring managers want facts, not bland or vague statements about how you are a ‘team player’, so introduce tangible results you have achieved in your engineering work, including figures.
The third paragraph should state why the company interests you – mention something from your own research. Have you heard they are a good employer that invests in people, or perhaps they have won awards, or produced something you find impressive or interesting?
In the final paragraph you should summarise all of the above points succinctly and state your desire and availability for an interview. If you’ve tantalised the reader with just enough detail to make them want to hear more, you’ve done a good job.
Sign off with ‘Yours sincerely’ if you addressed the letter to someone or ‘Yours faithfully’ if you don’t know the name of the person.
No-nos for cover letters
A common mistake candidates make is not tailoring each cover letter to the job they are applying for. Try not to simply 'copy and paste' the same letter by changing the company/job names, as this will be too generic and you will come across as someone employing a ‘scattergun’ approach to job applications. Also do not overstate your abilities or qualifications – you may have to justify yourself at interview.
Our engineering hiring expert concludes: 'The aim of the cover letter and CV together is not necessarily to wow the recruiter, but to make it as difficult as possible for them not to interview you. You’re ticking boxes in order to get through the door; ideally, you’re doing it smoothly, competently and perhaps even with a small degree of panache.'