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How to write a cover letter for a job

If you need to find out how to write a cover letter for a job, you have come to the right place. In this article, you will learn:


Today’s job market is more competitive than ever. It is not enough to have qualifications; you also need experience and if that isn’t enough, you have to have a slick curriculum vitae. Just at the point where you think it is enough to give anyone a screaming migraine, you find out that most would be employers also expect a cover letter within your job application. It can be tempting to notice that requirement and dismiss its importance. After all, your cv tells of your qualifications and your work experience. On top of that, you have filled in an application form that wants to know everything about you so just how important can a cover letter be?

If you imagine that there are often hundreds, sometimes thousands, of applications for jobs, you may be able to see the value of a dynamic cover letter. Essentially, it is your thirty second sales pitch. An employer will read the cover letter and instantly judge your merits. If this sounds callous, unfortunately it is the way business operates today. If your cover letter doesn’t dazzle in a positive fashion your application will instantly be dismissed.

To make matters worse, many companies have now adopted the policy that unless they want to take your application further, they will not let you know that you have been rejected. This demonstrates just how stringent the marketplace is and ultimately how important it is to know how to write a cover letter to gain employment.

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Before we move onto the way to make your cover letter stand out, we will point out what you should avoid with a cover letter because making these errors is a sure way to be rejected with speed.

  • Some folks adopt the idea that the more jobs they apply for the better. They attach comfort to large numbers. However, the only way they can do this is to do a generic cover letter and cv. They will then apply for as many jobs as possible and wonder why no-one replies. It is better to apply for five jobs with a specially tailored cover letter that is written for each job individually than it is to apply for two hundred and to use the same vague letter for each one. Employers can spot a blanket cover letter as easily as if it was a dancing elephant in a supermarket.
  • Take the time to make sure that your cover letter does not have spelling mistakes or grammatical errors in it. For instance, if you are applying for a job teaching English as a foreign language and you conjugate your verbs incorrectly, your employers will worry that you need English lessons yourself. In other words, you will be top of the rejection pile.
  • Don’t get any of the details of the company that you are applying to work for wrong. If you get them mixed up with a competitor, your application will not be looked upon favourably.
  • Don’t suggest that you are only available for interviews on Wednesday afternoons because you are too busy the rest of the time. Obviously, this is hyperbole but some applicants do stipulate interview times and it really is not appreciated.
  • Keep your cover letter brief. In most cases one side of A4 is ample. If you are really excited about the position and want to tell them everything that you have ever thought about such a job because you want them to understand that this should be the position for you, you won’t get it. Contain yourself and stick to the most important points.
  • Don’t say that you only want the job on a temporary basis until you get your degree, even if it is true. No company ever looks kindly on an applicant that appears to be looking down on their vacant situations.

There are different types of cover letters and although some of the methods of writing a cover letter for a job are the same, it is useful to realise that there are different types and what they are.

Application letter – this is the type of letter that you would write if you had seen a specific job advertised. For instance, if you looked on local colleges and in the situations vacant section on their website they were advertising for an administrative assistant.

Prospecting letter – this is where you have decided that you want a specific job and instead of waiting to find vacancies, you write to a list of companies that you have complied and ask them to consider you when positions become available within their company.

Writing an application letter can be a straightforward job if you follow the steps involved carefully. First of all, do take care to set your letter out properly. Even though we are in the 21st century and lots of formal traditions have been dropped, this is not the case when providing a cover letter for a job. In other words, stick to the format of putting your name and address in the top left hand corner of the letter. Don’t forget to put the date below it with a space in between. Also, as it is a business letter, you should put the company name and address further down on the right hand side of the page. Don’t forget to leave a space between where the date would have been on the other side. All of this may appear fiddly and old fashioned but this is what you have to do to be taken seriously in the job market.

Take care when you write the person’s name to whom you are addressing. People can be truly sensitive if their names are spelled wrongly or you call them Miss when they insist on Ms. It may not seem important but it could make the difference as to whether your resume is looked at or not, especially if the person going through the applications doesn’t feel well or has had an argument with their partner. If you don’t have a name, simply put Dear Sir or Madam.

Leave a space and you are ready to dazzle the reader with the main body of your letter. At this point, you need to inform the reader which job you are applying for and also to suggest that they may wish to look at your cv which is attached to the letter.

It is imperative that you take your time to make sure that the next part is right. Look at the advertisement for the position and check out the part that informs you what criteria is needed to fill the position. The trick here is to match up your qualifications and work experience with the criteria they want the applicant to fill. It is imperative that you make it as clear as possible, when the reader looks at the cover letter, that you can fulfil all the requirements. You can do that quite simply by making a list of the criteria that they have requested and then underneath giving a list of your qualifications. It is essential that you match each requirement up so that it is impossible to miss that you are a perfect match for the job. For instance, if the job requirement number one is sales experience, under your qualifications, you would write two years selling prestige cars at the showroom in Manchester. If criteria number two is a clean driving licence put how many years you have held a clean licence as number two on your list.

It is worth while paying special attention to the list. Don’t write it quickly and think that will do. It is essential that you make it as concise as possible whilst ensuring that you also shine. Don’t send it until you can see exactly how your qualifications mirror the company’s requirements. Let other people look at it too before you apply for the job. Other pairs of eyes may see how you can highlight one of your skills more effectively.

As mentioned earlier, a prospecting letter is when you write a letter to a company even though you have not seen a job advertised. At this point, you may wonder why you would do that if there was no job on offer. In essence, there are three reasons why this might happen.

  • Although you may not have seen a job on offer with a certain company it does not mean that there is not a job on offer. It could be that you simply have not seen the advertisement for it.
  • Even though there is not a job on offer with your favoured company at the present time, this doesn’t mean that there won’t be one in six weeks’ time. If your letter is in the company files because someone liked the look of your cover letter, you could be contacted the next time a suitable position arises.
  • Certain careers work differently to the norm and it is this type of career which means that you have to send out prospecting letters. Writers send out prospecting letters as a normal way of selling themselves. They write a cover letter pitching their book and hoping that the publisher or agent will read the first three chapters of their novel.

Sending out a prospecting letter may help you get ahead in the job stakes. The reason for this is that when people apply for jobs that are advertised this is a positive stand to take but it is not exactly being an active go getter. Alternatively, if you send a prospecting letter, it shows initiative and also suggests that you are interested in the company. Companies tend to like this.

If you do decide to embark on some prospect cover letter writing, then you may have a little bit more work to do but it may be worth it in the long run. For instance, you will have to uncover a contact name to address your letter to. This does not need to be problem though as you can usually access the name on the internet or even simply telephone them and ask for a name. If you explain what you need it for, it should not be a problem.

Obviously, another disadvantage to writing a prospecting letter as opposed to an applicant letter is that you will not have a list of criteria that you need to fulfil for a position which you are applying for. This does not need to be a problem either. There are steps which you can take instead.

  • Tell them why the company appeals to you.
  • List your qualifications and work experience that is relevant to the company and describe how this could make you an asset to them.
  • Demonstrate that you have done your homework by talking about their mission statement if they have one. Discuss it in a glowing light.
  • Thank them for their time and attention and state that you are looking forward to hearing from them.

When you have done the main body of your applicant or prospecting cover letter, you should remain formal and end with ‘yours sincerely’ if you have used a specific name at the opening of your letter. However, if you failed to get a contact name and had to resort to Dear Sir or Madam, you should end your letter with yours faithfully.

You now have the basics of how to write a cover letter for a job. Unfortunately, it can be tempting when you have finished your first draft to want to send it off immediately, that is human nature. The human brain always seeks closure. Try to fight against it. If it is at all possible, put your cover letter away for at least a day and then return to it. Unfortunately, what might have seemed like a stroke of genius at midnight after staring at a computer screen for hours can appear clumsy and unprofessional when you revisit it a few days later. This is why redrafting is imperative. Furthermore, if you can get other people to read it over that too may help you to improve your writing.

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