There is always debate regarding whether to send a cover letter or not to send a cover letter, especially now, in the age of electronic job applications.
You should think of the cover letter as something specific for the role, especially when your resume is often generic (that is not created specifically for the role). The purpose of the cover letter is to act as an introduction, a scene setter, to your resume.
It lets the reader know what role you are applying for, it gives them a high level insight into your resume and your skills, but is not your resume re-worded!
The key to a good cover letter is that it entices the reader to review your resume. It helps them know what role you are applying for, where you saw it advertised, why you are interested, briefly how you meet their key criteria (if they have stated them in the advertisement).
If you have your resume professionally written it often pays to have your cover letter created also. Having a well-written cover letter “template” that you can amend for specific roles will save you time and get you more interviews.
However if you are writing a cover letter yourself here are brief answers to “often asked questions” regarding cover letters.
How long should it be?
For most cover letters keep it to a single A4 page of well space text. The cover letter is about enticing them to read your resume, not to send them to sleep before getting to your resume.
What font should I use?
For most cover letters I would suggest you use the same font as your resume. It can be off putting, visually, to move from a cover letter in one font and style to a resume in a completely different font.
What style and format should I use?
Keep your cover letter simple, professionally and easy to read. Do not use jargon or complex language.
Most of all though – remember to proof read your cover letter, as you would with your resume.
Too often I see a good resume spoiled by a badly worded (spelling and syntax) cover letter. Even if you have a brilliant resume the reader could be discouraged from reading it because you make some simple mistakes in the cover letter.
What are the critical things to include?
There are a number of key items that any cover letter must include:
• Your contact details (ie address, phone number, email address);
• The date;
• Details of the person/company you are sending the letter to;
• The job reference number and/or position title,
• Reason you are applying for the role.
What structure should I use?
There is no specific template that I would suggest for a cover letter. This is dependent upon the role and the information requested in the application. However a typical cover letter would include:
• Introductory paragraph: confirming the role you are applying for (including relevant reference or position number),
• Second Paragraph: Brief description of your current job or the degree you are undertaking – to set the scene,
• Third paragraph: Summarise why you are the person for the role
• Main body of the letter: Include brief statements for the each of the key criteria in the advert (referring as required to your resume),
• Closing paragraph: Confirming your availability for interview and how you can be contacted.
Finally make sure you have your name at the end of the letter, and indicate what has been attached.
How to open and close?
If possible address the person by name and remember to use appropriate opening and closing syntax. If addressing by name (Dear Ms Smith) close using “Yours sincerely”.
If there is no name given then use “Dear Sir or Madam” and close with “Your faithfully”.
These hints and tips will help you write a cover letter that will get your resume read.
Also see Writing a Great Resume.
Written by Dr Kim Wigglesworth, Prototype Career Services.