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Cover Letter

How Not to Write a Cover Letter

Feb 04 2016

You may think that a cover letter is quite a simple part of a job application. After all, you just need to state why you’re writing, tell the reader your CV is enclosed and let them know you’re looking forward to receiving an interview, right?

How Not to Write a Cover Letter


Many people make this mistake, but in fact the cover letter is crucial and needs to be given the same amount of time and focus as your CV. Your ‘cover’ letter is just that, the first thing that anyone will read. True, it states the other important documents that are enclosed or attached, but it is essentially the front page and let’s be honest, who doesn’t judge a book by its cover?
You need to know how to write a creative cover letter and use it as your opportunity to sell yourself. Definitely refer to your CV but use this document to expand on the most important points and to draw the reader into the rest of your application.

Here are a few common mistakes to avoid when writing your cover letter:

Don’t be general

One of the things I come across so often is a general cover letter that has clearly been sent to a long list of companies. These letters are not tailored to the role available, do not mention the hiring company and either have very little focus or focus on a mishmash of things that aren’t particularly relevant to the role.
Your cover letter should be tailored to the role you are applying for. It needs to mention the company and the role so you can focus on the qualities and skills that have been mentioned in the job description and person specification. There is no point in mentioning every skill you have if they just aren’t relevant to the role. Be selective and only pick those that are going to impress this particular employer. The company you’re applying to want to feel that you have picked them out specifically, not sent the same letter to both them and their competitors.

Don’t skip over the vitals

The company you’re writing to might have lots of roles advertised, especially if you are applying via a recruitment company so make sure it’s obvious which role one you are referring to. Your first paragraph should state why you’re writing, i.e. to apply for ‘X’ position. This is where you also state what else is enclosed or attached.

Don’t be modest

As I’ve mentioned above, your cover letter is your opportunity to sell yourself. If you don’t do a good job of explaining why you are a serious candidate, it’s possible that your CV won’t even get a glance. Don’t be modest here, take the stage and really go for it. It is very important that this part of the CV is tailored to the role in question for maximum impact. Pick three skills that are essential to the role and highlight with specific examples how you can demonstrate these skills.

It’s not all about you

It’s all very well impressing the employer with all your relevant skills, but don’t forget to also mention the company or role specifically by detailing what drew you to this particular position. Show that you’ve done some research on the company and really understand their core values or way of working. Pick something out that is unique to them to make it clear that this is the role for you rather than a position on a long list that you are working your way through.

Refer but don’t repeat

Your cover letter is a place to expand on your achievements already identified in your CV. Don’t repeat big chunks of your CV here. Instead, draw on the most relevant experiences detailed in your CV and elaborate with additional evidence. Make sure the evidence and examples you give are as relevant to the role you’re applying to as possible.