A guide to writing a great cover letter
So you’re applying for a dream job; you’ve sorted out your CV and now it’s time to write your cover letter. First thing’s first, don’t panic! 😱 Writing about yourself and your skills might feel tough to begin with, but it’s pretty simple once you know the basics. Here, we’re taking you through some essential tips to writing a standout cover letter.
What is a cover letter, and why do you need one?
A cover letter is a more personal and detailed companion to your CV. In a few paragraphs, it’s a chance to highlight why you’re suitable for a role, and let a potential employer know more about your experience and skills.
It’s also an opportunity for you to stand out from the crowd. Not all recruiters ask for a cover letter, but it can make all the difference to whether you’re called for an interview.
Cover letters can take numerous forms – from being integrated as questions in an online application form, or writing it directly into an email, to a separate attachment.
What should a cover letter look like?
In most cases, a cover letter will be submitted as a digital attachment in PDF format. When you create this document, be sure to name it something simple like: ‘Application for junior designer–Jane Doe’.
As for the design, try not to overthink this too much, and take your visual cues from the design of your CV. Keep it simple, easy-to-read and give yourself enough spacing between paragraphs.
How long should it be?
Ideally it should just be a few paragraphs long – usually between 300–500 words, and no more than a page. This means you’ll want to keep things concise and waffle-free!
Before you start writing: Do your research
The first thing to note is the importance of tailoring each and every cover letter to the role you’re applying for. Never (and we repeat, never!) copy-paste the same letter for different jobs. This is where nailing your research comes in...
🤓 Get to know the company
We cannot stress enough how vital this is; you need to show that you’ve done the research. There are a few ways to do this:
• Read the mission statement on a company’s website
• Get to know their work and clients
• Have a scroll through their social media profiles
Take note of the things you like about them and start thinking of ways to tell them this in your cover letter.
🧐 Understand what they’re looking for
Another key point is to carefully read and analyse the job description. Consider the following:
• What skills are required?
• What qualifications are required?
• What are the responsibilities within the role?
Note down examples of where you’ve used those skills, or have previous relevant experiences.
The cover letter: What should you actually write?
Before you start tapping away, it’s a good idea to have a solid structure to follow, such as:
- A greeting, addressing the recruiter or company hiring
- An opening paragraph, detailing what interests you about the position and why
- Middle paragraph(s), highlighting your relevant skills and experiences
- A closing paragraph, rounding things up
We’re going to break down these elements below in a little more detail.
It can be easy to assume that you have to sound ‘professional’ in a cover letter, but remember that this isn’t an academic essay. Write as you would naturally, and whatever you do, avoid writing “Dear Sir/Madam” or “To whom this may concern”.
Sometimes a company will provide details of who’ll be reading your application, but if you don’t know who to address it to, you could use something like:
- To the team at StudioName,
- Hi team StudioName!
- Dear StudioName team,
2. Your opening paragraph
👋 Begin with a snappy intro
Next comes your introduction. Here you should mention:
- What appealed to you about the position
- Why you were enticed to apply
- Why you’re interested in the company
Instead of just using the generic “I’m writing to apply for the role at Company…”, opt for something more personal and specific to you. Here are a couple of examples:
As an avid reader who has every book of yours on the shelf (it’s true, ask me anything), I was more than excited to see a role open up as an editorial assistant at ILoveBooks Publishing.
As someone who’s followed your brilliant work for a few years now, I was so excited to see the role of junior designer open up. I’ve always admired the characterful and playful tone of your work for clients like Client1 and Client2.
3. Your middle paragraph(s)
Use the middle paragraphs to show why you’re the perfect person for the position. Here you can demonstrate:
- Why you’re a great fit for the role
- The proven experience and skills you bring
- How the role lines up with your ambitions and career direction
If you’re just starting out and don’t yet have loads of experience, don’t sweat it. You can still reference everything from self-initiated work to volunteering projects. And if you have heaps of experience, only highlight the best and most relevant parts. Think quality over quantity!
📚 Examples, examples, examples
We’ve all heard someone say they’re a ‘team player’, but have they proven this?
Look back over those notes you made from the job ad. Identify two or three of the main skills or attributes they’re looking for, and match them with experiences that prove you have those skills, and be honest!
Here are a some examples:
An example of being ‘organised’
In my previous role, I took the initiative to reorganise the studio’s records into a detailed system. No longer were files lost and misplaced, and the studio’s day-to-day ran much more efficiently.
An example of a ‘keen eye for detail’
On one occasion, with just minutes before sending the files to print, I spotted a major typo and managed to get it resolved quickly and with great detail.
An example of ‘multitasking’ and ‘good communication’ skills
In this time, I learnt how to juggle multiple projects at once, switching to different tasks according to the company’s needs, relying on strong communication over email through the day.
An example of being ‘proactive’ and a ‘self-starter’
In my own time, I founded a magazine that celebrates local shop signage. This project taught me a lot about time-keeping and the importance of keeping yourself motivated. The printed edition attracted press from MagazineName, and has built a dedicated Instagram following.
4. Closing paragraph and sign-off
Your closing paragraph rounds everything up. It should be short and sweet, somewhere between one to three sentences. This can be a chance to remind them how much you’d suit the role, thank them for their time and express your keenness to meet.
And when signing off, stick to a friendly and informal tone of voice. Rather than the age-old “Yours sincerely”, try “All the best” or “Best wishes”.
Here’s an example:
I believe my skills and experiences so far would be a great match for this position – it would be great to have the chance to meet and chat about the role further. Thank you for taking the time to read my application; you can find my CV attached with further information, and I very much look forward to hearing from you!
Before you hit ‘send’
🖨 Proof it!
Perhaps the most important step is to spell-check and proof-read your cover letter. The last thing you want is a typo slipping through the net, or a name spelled wrong – especially if they’re looking for someone with a “keen eye for detail”!
A good way to do this is to print your cover letter out, if you can. Reading a physical copy can make it surprisingly easy to spot typos that are easy to skim past on a screen.
🎤 Read it out loud
Reading your work out loud can give you a sense of how it feels overall. You’ll start to notice if sentences feel very long, or if you’ve repeated yourself – the stuff that goes amiss when reading in your head.
You could also get a second opinion from someone you trust – they can proof it all and make sure it sounds like you.
Then finally, proof it one last time, for luck. Once you’re feeling good about it, take a deep breath, and click ‘send’ or ‘submit’! 🤞
Looking for more advice and tips? See our guide to creating a great CV here, and our full Guides series.
Written by Creative Lives in Progress
Illustration by Rosie Reynolds