The Best Way To Write a Cover Letter For A Job
When it comes to the question of what’s more important, a CV or a cover letter, the answer is neither - a synergy needs to occur between the two.
What do we mean by this?
We mean that one props up the other, and vice versa. A CV displays the facts, while the cover letter conveys the character, or, in other words, brings the CV to life.
Getting the quality balance right between your CV and cover letter is what it takes to land a job. If you write a quality CV but neglect to give your cover letter the same treatment, your job chances will diminish.
If you’re not putting in the time to pen the perfect cover letter - for each job you apply for - you’re not saving yourself time, but rather enabling the ability of your CV to stand on its own.
So, how do you write a high-quality cover letter to bring your CV to life? Read on to find out!
The best way to approach a cover letter is to think about what its function is. Don’t view it as a mere companion piece to your CV; you need to appreciate the cover letter can convey to your employer what your CV cannot.
So, before you pen your cover letter, learn what a good cover letter should do:
You can’t stress why you want the job through a CV - this is a function performed solely by a cover letter.
Within the first couple of sentences of your cover letter, you should state plainly why you want the job. A perfect first line of a cover letter should look something like this:
My name is _________ and I’d like to help your company reach maximum search engine optimisation as your in-house SEO expert.
This level of directness will catch the recipient's attention, as it’s clear that you both know what you want and know what you can bring to the company.
Always start with ‘why’. This is not only a means of gripping the reader's attention but will instinctively tune them into how your cover letter will be structured. By starting with ‘why’, the reader will know that the ‘how’ part will come throughout the main body of your cover letter.
Don’t waste your opening lines by detailing your achievements and work experience up to that point. This makes your CV too top-heavy and difficult to read. Additionally, never spend your introduction on meandering information such as where you saw the job ad posted, etc.
Instead, in as clear and concise a manner as possible, have the confidence to assert yourself as a leading candidate by stating why you want the job exactly.
Your cover letter should also be a reflection of the research you’ve done on the specific job role.
Before starting a new cover letter, you should always make sure that you’ve thoroughly researched the company you’re applying for. Pick out relevant points of interest, such as expansions that the company has recently made, awards they’ve attained, etc., and feed that into your cover letter writing.
A good cover letter should convey that you’re informed about what the company does, its present projects, and its future plans.
To give you an idea of how to present this information, use sentences like ‘I’ve been researching your company, and I’m loving the impact you're making in the industry’, or that having been ‘impressed by the range of awards you won this year, I knew I had to apply for this position.’
Although qualifications determine whether or not you qualify for the job, you are not the sum of your achievements to date. There is more to you than can be reflected through your attainments.
You should take a cover letter as an opportunity to convey to the employer who you really are behind all the degrees and achievements. To do this, you can explain how you got to a position of attaining these goals, your current working situation, or why you left your previous job.
Stating something as simple as ‘I left my previous employment as it wasn’t going in the direction I wanted it to’ speaks volumes to an employer and conveys a lot about your motivation and the current stage of your career. As does stating that you’ve just left university and are looking for your first job, and so on.
When it comes to adding information such as this, strive to make the information sound as unique to you as possible - make it reflect who you are and not just read as copied and pasted sentences. Think of a cover letter as an opportunity to tell your story, detailing circumstances and events unique to your career trajectory up to this point.
Although it should not take on a conversational tone, it should have conversational elements - such as anecdotes - that bring your cover letter to life. The cover letter can do what the CV can’t, and that is convey a sense of character.
Simply listing the qualifications you have attained, although impressive, can read cold and a bit too matter-of-fact from the perspective of the reader.
Although the qualifications prove that you can perform a certain skill, you should go a step further in your cover letter by providing real-life situations where you’ve implemented said skill successfully.
To give depth to your qualifications, you should pick out two or three that pertain to the job you're applying for. Then, you should detail anecdotes that show you’ve been able to put these skills into practice in the real world.
You could also use figures to show that your skills helped to improve the company. For example, if you brought your knowledge of link building to an in-house SEO role, detailing how much this helped improve the company’s site rankings would be a superb way to demonstrate how you can put the skill into action!
Put yourself in the reader’s shoes and think about what you’d like to read in a CV - excitement and enthusiasm or doubt and indifference?
Don’t be scared of admitting in your cover letter what the job means to you. Sometimes the main thing that lets you down is not your lack of qualifications, but your lack of clear drive and determination.
This doesn’t just mean stuffing your cover letter with a bunch of positive adjectives. However, you should properly plan out how the job role relates to your passions and think up ways to properly link these in your cover letter.
For example, you could explain how you were ‘excited when you read that the job role involves X skill because this directly links to my passion for Y’.
For this type of thing to come across as earnest, you’ve got to thoroughly read the job description and pick out parts that make sense logically to link to your passions. You cannot rush a good quality cover letter, as you’ll end up matching passions that don’t relate to the job description.
Overall, use the rule that if you’re not enthusiastic about the position, don’t bother applying for the job. If you’re truly sincere about needing the job, reasons and enthusiasm will come through naturally in your cover letter.
You could think of your cover letter as your first assignment for the company. It should, therefore, display excellent command of language, be well-formatted, and laid out comprehensively. You want both your CV and your cover letter to look as polished as possible, conveying to the recipient that you’ve put the maximum amount of thought and time into preparing it.
Given that you’re not yet at the interview stage, the cover letter is your first chance to communicate with your potential employer. Therefore, it is vital that you use your strongest written communication skills.
Make sure to impress them by implementing a wide range of vocabulary when it comes to describing yourself and your previous job roles, ensure that your text uses proper grammar and speaks in the correct tense, and keep your sentences succinct.
It could be a good idea to get a peer to proofread your cover letter before sending it to check for grammatical correctness (more on this later).
A cover letter is the personification of your CV - it should not be seen as a mere job application formality. Without a strong cover letter to back up the cold, hard facts and figures presented in your CV, they remain exactly that - cold and hard.
You need a cover letter for the following reasons:
First impressions are important, but cover letters are more important. A cover letter goes beyond a first impression as it details a condensed version of your life to be reviewed by someone you’ve never met before.
A CV alone won't do - imagine, upon first meeting someone, giving them a structured run-down of your personal details, qualifications, work experience, and hobbies. Besides many things, it would be a very bland first meeting!
A cover letter can evoke your personality and your attitude towards work - it gives the reader an impression of your character. From this impression, the employer can successfully judge whether you make a good fit for the team or not.
A cover letter is, therefore, necessary to add a human element to this first point of contact with the potential employer.
Creating a cover letter takes time, and an employer appreciates that. Having a cover letter attached can sometimes be seen as an end in itself, made all the better with strong writing and convincing language.
The action of completing a cover letter shows the employer that you’re serious about the job and willing to go the extra mile to convince them of this. It shows that you’ve clearly taken the time to consider the job role and construct a letter based on your findings.
Compared to a candidate who doesn’t attach a cover letter, you come across as an individual prepared to put the work in.
A strong cover letter could help give you some control over the topics that get covered in your interview, should you be selected. Highlighting the parts of your CV that you believe pertain to the job may influence how the employee structures their interview questions.
Suppose you provide a detailed analysis of certain qualifications or positions you’ve had. In that case, this may pique the interest of the reader to the point where they want to find out even more - and ask you for further details in the interview.
If you want to convey earnestness in every job application, then you need to make a new cover letter for each job. Although it would be a lot easier to copy and paste the same cover letter over and change the company name, you may find that the details you presented for one job application aren’t relevant to another.
Employers are likely to notice irrelevancy, which may limit your chances of success.
Therefore, it would be best to create a custom cover letter for each job you apply for, despite how time-consuming this can be.
It is, of course, a good idea to have a rudimentary cover letter outline so that you can add parts relevant to the job you’re applying for. This outline could also feature strong turns of phrases and descriptions of yourself that are more general than specific.
To ensure your cover letter is as readable as possible, you should follow the general structure that most cover letters follow. This ensures that the cover letter is laid out comprehensively for the reader, and they do not have to search for vital information.
The basic cover letter structure that can be applied to almost all job applications is as follows:
Your contact info
Salutation (greeting to whom you’re writing)
Dear (contact name)/or hiring manager if you don’t have the name.
The body of the cover letter
As shown above, the contact info section of your cover letter should detail your name, location, and contact details. Before, this section only featured an e-mail and a telephone number. In recent years its become common to include LinkedIn information or any other links to job profiles or blogs that you have.
Your contact information should be presented directly below your name header, using a smaller font.
If you're submitting a hard copy of your cover letter by mail or by hand, you should also include the recipient’s contact information at the top left, as you would on any normal letter. However, if you’re submitting the letter via e-mail or on the company’s website, this is not necessary.
Like all business correspondences, it’s important to choose the correct salutation to start your letter.
But which is best for a cover letter?
Ideally, you should start your cover letter with ‘Dear Mr., Mrs., Sir., Doctor., Professor., etc., (recipient’s name),’. Knowing the recipient’s name is always better than not, as it shows that you’ve taken the time to find out.
If it’s not clear from the job application, then search around on the company’s website for a name. If you’re really serious about the position, you could also call the front office of the business and find out there.
You should always avoid using something casual like ‘hi’ or ‘hey’ to kick off your cover letter!
If you’re finding it impossible to determine the recipient’s name, use ‘to whom it may concern’ and ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ as a last resort. These salutations often come across as generic and suggest that you’ve not bothered to find out who you’re addressing.
The body of your cover letter should follow the basic structure:
1st paragraph: Here, you should grab the reader by detailing exactly why you want the job. ‘Why you are writing’ basically means why you are applying, so be as forward and honest as possible about what the job means to you at this point.
2nd paragraph: This second paragraph should feel like a natural extension of the first, where you detail specifically why you feel like your qualifications and experience match what the company is looking for. Bring in anecdotes and expand on the information presented in your CV.
It’s important to keep this section as succinct as possible. Only aim to highlight around 2-3 qualities or assets relevant to the job description.
3rd paragraph: Here, bring in the research you’ve conducted of the company, and demonstrate that you fully understand their goals, missions, and story so far. At this point, you’re displaying a full comprehension of the work you’ll be performing, while you set things up for a nice conclusion.
Conclusion: Reiterate the main points of your cover letter using different language.
Again, keep up the professional language in the final lines of your cover letter, particularly at the closing. Never use casual sign-offs like ‘cheers’. Instead, opt for something like ‘sincerely’, ‘best regards’, ‘respectfully’, or ‘thank you for your consideration’.
So, you’ve got the basics down, but what else do you need to know before pressing send? Here are a few more top tips:
As we’ve mentioned, the tone and the content are the two most important things when it comes to acing your cover letter. Although you can strive to put this in, it can be sometimes difficult to judge whether you’ve nailed it or not.
For this reason, we’d recommend sending your cover letter to a few close peers, explaining the job position, and asking them to quickly review whether or not they think your writing lines up.
A new pair of eyes may be able to identify parts of your letter that come across as too desperate or, conversely, don’t display enough enthusiasm. Additionally, a peer may be able to highlight grammatical errors.
This may slightly conflict with our last point about enthusiasm, but it’s important to not go too overboard with the language. Specifically, avoid overflattering the company and avoid sounding desperate. Don’t go on about how much you’ve struggled over the past however many months to gain employment to no avail.
If your cover letter reads like your last-ditch attempt at gaining employment, the recipient of your letter will likely take this as a good reason for not progressing further with your application. Not only does it convey that you don’t know how to write a cover letter, but also stating how much you’ve struggled to gain employment is normally a cause for concern.
Display professionalism and maturity throughout your letter, and avoid talking about the length of time you’ve been unemployed.
On top of avoiding a desperate tone, you should avoid one that is overly humorous. It’s impossible to tell what kind of sense of humour your job application reviewer may have, meaning you take a huge risk in injecting jokes into your CV.
More often than not, jokes can fall completely flat and overshadow your qualifications, skills, or how well matched you are for the job role.
If you feel it’s absolutely appropriate, then you could add some charm to your CV here and there. A CV littered with puns, on the other hand, will almost always fail.
The most impactful sentences tend to be the shortest in any type of writing and no less when it comes to cover letters. Small sentences detailing your big achievements are the goal to keep in mind while writing.
Not only is succinctness important for impact, but it's also important in making your letter as readable as possible. The last thing you want is your potential employer getting lost in your long, comma-heavy sentences.
Try to keep your sentences limited to one adjective each, remove all fluff, and aim to keep your cover letter to just one page in length.
Put yourself in your potential employer's shoes: they’ll likely have numerous CVs and cover letters to review once they’re finished with yours. You can easily win their favour by making yours short and direct.
When completing any piece of written work - not just a cover letter - it can be very easy to neglect the importance of your conclusion. Although a simple round-up of the basic info presented throughout the piece is sometimes appropriate, you’re going to want to go the extra mile when it comes to cover letter writing.
Instead, consider the importance of the information you’ve provided throughout the cover letter, and think of a new way of presenting it. Avoid repeating phrases, and rather think up new ones with fresh and exciting language to reiterate what the job means to you and why you want it.
Additionally, avoid using vague sentences like ‘I look forward to hearing from you’. This conveys a lack of conviction and suggests that you might not get the job. It’s acceptable at this point to be more forward and suggest that you look forward to the interview and the further progression of your application.
For example, you could say something along the lines of:
‘I’d be very keen to meet with you and discuss further my experience and capabilities’.
This perfectly sets up a job interview invite without coming across as too assertive. You don’t want to state something like ‘I look forward to being interviewed’ as it’s the employer's job to confirm the interview, not yours.
Behind every good CV lies a good cover letter. Although the job may demand that applicants require certain awards and attainments, it takes a well-written cover letter to argue the case of the applicant: to explain why they’re better than other, equally-as-qualified applicants.
Therefore, your cover letter needs to be more than good; it needs to be expertly adapted to each job you apply for and have the ability to plead your case.
To construct a cover letter, you need to familiarise yourself with every aspect of the job you’re applying for. You need to go beyond what’s written in the job description and find out the nitty-gritty of the company. You need to be able to link what you find to your unique skillsets and devise a cover letter that targets the company specifically.
Next time you apply for a job role in SEO, use the information we’ve laid out for you in this article!