What is a cover letter?

Cover letters are funny things. They seem so archaic -- as the actual term begets a mental image of a letter that covers the contents of the job application and CV below it. But archaic or not, they are extremely vital to the job searching process, and serious job seekers need to know how to write a cracking good cover letter -- or forever be dismissed as lazy, a poor communicator, inexperienced, or arrogant by those reviewing the applications.

A successful cover letter will win you an interview, so it's vital to be compelling and show the hiring manager that you're a strong candidate for the job. The hiring manager will spend mere seconds reviewing your letter or email, which means you don't have much time to connect with the employer and make a positive impact.

The cover letter consists of contact details, a greeting or salutation, an explanation why your CV is in whoever's hands, information as to why you are qualified for the position, a conclusion, and your signature. Let’s break down these main components one by one.

Contact Details - these are easy enough. How do companies get in touch with you? What is your email address? Your mobile? Your Skype handle? Your LinkedIn? Your Twitter? If you’re applying for remote work, what country are you currently located in?

When sending cover letters through email, put all this information after your signature. In fact, make it part of your signature in your email client, so it’s always there, and you will always be accessible.

It is possible to have too many contact details (like your Instagram, Vimeo, Pinterest, World of Warcraft handle, SecondLife username, and so on), but rarely is this a huge problem.

What can be a big problem is if your email address sounds unprofessional.

Never use a “cutesy” email address that refers to your hobbies or political opinions or one that is a bit off-colour – your email address needs to reflect your professional identity, not your sense of humor.

If you do not already have a professional email address, you may want to create an account dedicated solely to your career search such as “Applicant_FirstName_Lastname@email.com” to distinguish your entries from other applicants and to streamline your inbox.

Greetings or Salutations - Some companies prefer formal language such as “Dear Mr. Braithwaite”, or “Dear Ms. Mendoza:” (note the punctuation differences are not gender specific; both the comma and the colon are interchangeable when writing a formal salutation), while others employ more casual greetings like, “Hi Mary,” or “Hey Jim!” depending on what kind of culture their company espouses. To be safe, stick to “Dear <Insert Name Here>,” for the first email, and if you get a response, reply with the same format that they use.

If you don’t know who you’re writing to, try to find out. Not only does it make a good impression on whoever is reading your application (especially if they left their names out deliberately), it shows that you have the initiative to get things done and be courteous while you’re at it.

If you absolutely cannot find a contact name, even if you call the company and ask for who to send your application to outright, then use a generic salutation like “Dear Hiring Manager:”, “To Whom it May Concern:”, or “Dear Sir or Madam:” but make sure that the body of your letter doesn’t look like it’s a template or your application will probably be binned.

Introduction - As in any form of social interaction, things usually go along better if proper introductions have been made. Take this opportunity to explain why you are writing, why they hold your CV in their hands, and how you came to find out about the job they are currently looking to fill.

Body - The meat of the matter, quite literally. This is where you should explain why you are qualified for the position. Highlight your experience, skills, attributes, and attitudes that make you an ideal candidate for the job. It is challenging to write these things down without coming off as arrogant so try to be very particular about how you word things. The goal is “eager and earnest”, not pigheaded and proud.

Some people err too much on the side of caution and restate their whole CV but in paragraph form so as not to come off too arrogant or aggressive -- but this approach usually backfires, as it is a glut of information that is not necessary for the cover letter to contain.

You're selling your candidacy to the reader, so it's important to be specific about your qualifications as they relate to the position. Make strong connections between your qualifications and the position requirements. Mention specifically how your skills and experience match the job you are applying for. Use several shorter paragraphs or a bulleted list of your qualifications rather than one large block of text. This will make it easy for the reader to scan and absorb this critical information quickly.

Conclusion - this is a succinct (not abrupt) sign-off, thanking the company or employer for their time and consideration. Be sure to reiterate your interest in the position and describe how you will next follow up, or your availability for a call/conference.

Here’s a template you might want to start off with, and customise with each application that you send out:

Dear Recruitment Manager,


I would like to take this opportunity to submit my bid for the Corporate Communications position for Coca-Cola that you posted on the Facebook group for Marketing and Advertising Professionals.

My name is Very Interested Applicant. I have been a communications professional for eleven years, with a specialization in crisis management, digital strategy, and brand development. My work with politicians and multinational companies provided me with the standards and the protocols needed to navigate the communications of a company as big as Coca-Cola. I have done regional campaigns for Nestle, Kraft (now Mondelez International, Inc.), and the Century Group. I have also been a member of the media for nine years, writing for various magazines and websites; guesting on various radio programs on both AM and FM stations; and producing segments for Bloomberg.

I believe my experience, my contacts in the media, and my general attitude towards my clients coupled with Coca-Cola’s powerhouse advertising profile could be something worth pursuing on both our ends. I do hope to hear back from you soon!

All the best,

Very Interested Applicant

Communications Professional

Email: veryinterstedapplicant@gmail.com

Mobil: 012 345 5678

Skype: @veryinterestedapplicant

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