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You’re probably familiar with the standard cover letter. It goes something like this: introduce yourself, explain why you’re a great fit for the job, explain why the company is a great fit for you, and then finish by providing your contact details and thanking them for their time.

However, as fresh faces enter the competitive workforce alongside those who are moving companies, many of us have different ideas of what a cover letter is. Despite the popularity of social media, a well-written cover letter remains an essential tool for job seekers to make a lasting impression and showcase their qualifications to prospective employers.

15 tips for writing a great cover letter

Ultimately, the question on every candidate’s mind is: Do recruiters read cover letters? Yes, we do. As recruitment agencies receive more cover letters, what does it truly take to stand out in today’s job search? How long should a cover letter be? What does the perfect cover letter include?

As a recruitment agency with experience reading thousands of cover letters, we'll offer insights, advice, and techniques to craft a great cover letter to help you stand out. We've also included a handy checklist and sample cover letter.

1. Open with a hook

The number one goal of your cover letter is to get a hiring manager interested in you, and what you have to offer. But if your opening paragraph starts with “I am writing to apply for [job name] at [company name]”, chances are they may stop reading — even if you’re a perfect fit for the role.

Swap the standard introduction with a memorable statement instead. Start with an impressive achievement you’re proud of and that’s relevant to the role or highlight an aspect of the job description that stands out to you. If you can get them to keep reading, that’s half the battle won.

Here are some compelling examples to illustrate how you can immediately capture the hiring manager's attention:

Accountant: "Identifying and implementing a strategic tax optimisation plan that saved my previous employer $500,000 in unnecessary tax expenditures last fiscal year was a highlight of my career as an accountant. I am eager to bring my analytical skills and tax-saving strategies to the accounting team at [Company Name], ensuring financial efficiency and compliance."

Software Developer: "I developed a mobile application that solved a longstanding problem for XYZ Charity, increasing their operational efficiency by 40%. I'm excited about the opportunity to leverage my technical skills and passion for social good as a Software Developer at [Company Name]."

Marketing Professional: "Increasing brand engagement by over 50% in six months was just the beginning of my journey with XYZ Corp, and I am eager to bring similar groundbreaking results to the Marketing Manager position at [Company Name]."

Sales Executive: "Exceeding my sales targets by over 150% for three consecutive quarters was no small feat, but rather a testament to my strategic approach and relentless drive. I am excited to channel this energy and expertise into driving sales growth as a Sales Executive at [Company Name]."

Human Resources Professional: "Revamping our recruitment strategy to prioritise diversity and inclusion resulted in a 40% increase in team diversity over two years, enriching our company culture and driving innovation. I look forward to applying my passion for building inclusive workplaces in the HR Manager role at [Company Name]."

Related: Tell me about yourself: how to answer the dreaded interview question

2. Create a memorable impression with storytelling

Storytelling in your cover letter can be a powerful tool to create a memorable impression and engage the hiring manager. A well-crafted narrative that connects your past experiences to the role you're applying for can not only demonstrate your qualifications but also showcase your ability to communicate effectively.

When incorporating storytelling into your cover letter, focus on a key moment or achievement in your career that illustrates your problem-solving skills, resilience, or leadership.

Explain the context, the action you took, the outcome, and, most importantly, what you learned from the experience and how it prepares you for the challenges of the job you're applying for. This method can transform your cover letter from a simple list of qualifications into a compelling narrative that highlights your unique journey and fit for the role.

Here is an example, "In my previous role as a project manager, I led a team that was behind schedule on a critical project. By re-evaluating our approach and fostering a culture of open communication and collaboration, we not only delivered the project on time but also exceeded our client's expectations. This experience taught me the value of adaptability and the power of a motivated team, principles I'm excited to bring to your organisation."

It's about showing, not just telling, why you're the ideal candidate for the job.

3. Personalise it to the hiring manager

Address your cover letter to the right person, quote the job title and job application reference number (if applicable), and add where and when you saw the advertisement. Also, include the date and your contact details, as well as your Linkedin profile.

Given that the hiring manager's name might not always be readily available or identifiable, opting for 'Dear Hiring Manager' as a salutation in your cover letter is both perfectly acceptable and commonly used in job applications.

Related: Job interview confirmation email templates

4. Enhance your application with digital links

Beyond including your LinkedIn profile, consider mentioning any relevant online portfolios, professional blogs, or personal websites that showcase your work, achievements, and professional interests.

Your digital footprint can provide a richer, more dynamic picture of who you are as a professional. For instance, a writer could mention their blog or published articles, and a software developer might reference their GitHub profile. These digital assets allow hiring managers to see your work in action, offering tangible proof of your skills and creativity.

When referencing your digital footprint, ensure that all links are up-to-date and that your profiles are polished and professional. This is your chance to make a memorable impression by demonstrating not just what you've done, but who you are and what you're passionate about.

Keep in mind the privacy settings of any personal content you share and make sure it aligns with the professional image you wish to project.
  An Asian man working on a laptop in a cafe setting.

5. Use a clear and concise structure

A good cover letter uses short sentences, and simple language and is concise.

The cover letter word count isn't that important, but it should be between three to four paragraphs in length and no longer than one page. Half a page would be too short unless you're a graduate applying for your first role. Remember, you'll get the opportunity to go into more detail in the interview process.

Incorporating a cover letter heading at the top can help ensure that your application makes a strong first impression. Clearly state why you are interested in the role and company in the first paragraph.

Next, demonstrate how your key skills, qualifications and experience can help the business meet its goals. Show how your interests and personal qualities make you the best fit for the job and close by thanking the reader for considering your application.

6. Align your cover letter with the job description

Your cover letter should express how your unique combination of attributes could add real value to that particular role in the company.

Read the job description carefully so that you can match your most relevant skills, qualifications, knowledge, and experience to the job ad with clear examples to support your statements. You can also research the company website and match your relevant experience with the company's mission.

Many companies use Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) to screen cover letters and resumes. To ensure your cover letter makes it past these systems, use keywords and phrases directly from the job description.

This will help your application align with what the employer is looking for and increase the chances that your cover letter will be read by a human.

At Michael Page, we offer a wide array of exciting job opportunities for you to explore. Start your job search today and let us connect you with your next great opportunity.

7. Let your personality shine through

Recruiters are on the lookout for people who will be a good cultural fit and those who think outside the box. While cover letter examples are a helpful springboard for inspiration, try not to follow them to a T. Instead, inject a bit of humour and your personality into the cover letter.

Here’s a great example from a writer at The Daily Muse: 

“If I’m in a conference room and the video isn’t working, I’m not the sort to simply call IT and wait. I’ll (gracefully) crawl under the table and check that everything is properly plugged in.”

This type of example not only lightens up the cover letter. It also demonstrates your soft skills to the hiring manager, without being overly stuffy. However, remember to always keep it professional – if you wouldn’t say it in a job interview, don’t put it in your cover letter.

You'll be able to share more relevant stories in your job interview, so don't go beyond the ideal length of one page.

8. Emphasise soft skills with examples

In today's job market, highlighting your soft skills is as crucial as showcasing your technical abilities. However, stating you have these skills is not enough; you need to provide concrete examples that demonstrate how you've applied them effectively in real-world situations.

For instance, if you want to highlight your teamwork skills, you might say: "Collaborating closely with a diverse team, I played a key role in orchestrating a turnaround for a struggling project, which ultimately resulted in its success and a 20% increase in customer satisfaction."

By providing specific examples like these, you make a compelling case for your soft skills, showing potential employers not just that you possess these qualities, but how they've had a tangible impact in your past roles.
  A woman working on a laptop in a home setting.

9. Keep the tone upbeat

The tone of your cover letter should be professional, and friendly and convey enthusiasm. You want to demonstrate that you are enthusiastic about the role and have a positive attitude towards the company.

A sentence like "I am particularly excited about this role because it leverages my proven track record in innovative problem-solving and my dedication to building supportive team dynamics" highlights your positive attributes and readiness to contribute.

Avoid mentioning areas where you may be lacking the skills or experience listed in the job advertisement, as you can address these in the interview stage.

10. Use a cover letter template

If you’ve ever wondered how other people make their cover letters and CVs look so great, here’s the secret: templates. Countless templates on sites like Resume Lab, HubSpot or even Etsy will help you stand out. And the best part? You don’t need design experience to use them.

If you’re using a template, be sure that your cover letter and resume are visually consistent. Keep the same font, colour scheme and formatting for each to ensure you make an impact.

Try our free templates to get started on crafting your standout application today.

11. Give them a reason to read your resume

The point of a cover letter is first to introduce yourself and show why you are a good fit for the role and the company, but it should also act as something of a teaser for your resume.

You want the reader to move from the cover letter to your impressive resume, so don’t simply regurgitate all of the information from your resume into your cover letter, but rather add tidbits so they will be enticed to continue reading.

Read next: How to write a winning resume

12. Avoid clichés

Anyone who has ever worked in an office knows a raft of professional buzzwords – and is already tired of them. Avoid using terms and phrases like ‘team player’ and ‘give everything 110%’. If you’d still like to include these sentiments, find a way to write them so they don’t get written off as meaningless filler.

13. Always proofread

No matter how cover letters change through the ages, this one piece of advice on how to write a cover letter remains the same. Spelling mistakes or poor copy-paste jobs are the fastest way to get your application discarded by hiring managers.

Also, when you’re working with templates or saving as PDFs, it’s easy to let a missed comma, rogue bullet point or incomplete sentence slip by.

Run your cover letter through a proof-reader before saving it as a PDF and have a trusted friend or family member double-check it for mistakes. Reading your cover letter out loud is another great way to catch any tiny errors in the mix.
  A woman working on a tablet computer while cuddling a dog, in a home setting.

14. Explaining gaps in your career

Navigating the job market as a non-traditional candidate – whether you're changing careers, re-entering the workforce after a hiatus, or have a non-linear career path – can be daunting.

However, your cover letter is a powerful platform to highlight how your diverse experiences contribute to a rich skill set and a unique perspective that can benefit the company.

When crafting your cover letter, focus on the narrative that connects your past experiences to the job you're applying for. Emphasise transferable skills that have prepared you for this new role, even if they were developed in a different industry. For example, leadership, project management, communication, and problem-solving are valuable in virtually any job.

Acknowledge gaps or transitions directly and confidently, focusing on your growth, what you learned, and how this makes you even more prepared for the challenges of the role you're applying for.

Your goal is to turn potential perceived weaknesses into strengths by demonstrating your resilience, adaptability, and readiness to leverage all your experiences in the new role.

  • If you took a career break to travel or pursue further education, you could write: "During my time away from the professional world, I embraced the opportunity to travel and study, which broadened my perspectives and enhanced my problem-solving skills, making me a more adaptable and innovative thinker ready to contribute to your team."
     
  • If you took time off to care for family, you might include: "The period I dedicated to family care honed my time management, empathy, and crisis management skills, equipping me with a deeper understanding of teamwork and resilience that I bring to my professional endeavours."

Remember, non-traditional doesn't mean unqualified. It means you bring diversity of thought, experience, and skills that can enrich the team and company you're hoping to join.

This approach is equally effective when crafting a career change cover letter, allowing you to highlight how your diverse experiences and transferable skills position you as a strong candidate for a new industry or role.

15. Keep to one page

While it's essential to include enough detail to showcase your qualifications, it's equally important to adhere to the one-page rule. Focus on your most impactful achievements, and carefully select experiences that align closely with the job description. This constraint not only respects the hiring manager's time but also challenges you to present your most compelling attributes succinctly.

Leveraging AI to write your cover letter

As the job market evolves, so do the tools at our disposal. One innovative approach is leveraging AI for writing cover letters. AI writing assistants can help generate personalised cover letters based on your input, ensuring you highlight your strengths and tailor your application to specific job descriptions.

However, while AI can serve as a valuable starting point, reviewing and refining its output is essential to ensure it avoids sounding like a generic cover letter. The combination of technology and personal touch ensures your cover letter remains authentic and genuinely reflects your qualifications and personality.

Cover letter writing checklist

We've covered a lot, so here is a helpful checklist to get you started writing a compelling cover letter. By following these guidelines, you can craft your own cover letter that not only stands out to hiring managers but also showcases your unique qualifications and personality.

  1. Start with a hook: Begin with something memorable, such as an impressive achievement or a unique aspect of the job that excites you.
     
  2. Incorporate storytelling: Use storytelling to connect your past experiences, challenges, and triumphs to the role you’re applying for, demonstrating your problem-solving skills and resilience.
     
  3. Personalise: Address the cover letter to the hiring manager if possible. If not, "Dear Hiring Manager" is suitable. Include job details and your contact information.
     
  4. Include digital links: Enhance your application by linking to your LinkedIn profile, online portfolios, or professional blogs that showcase your work.
     
  5. Clear and concise structure: Strive for a balance between providing enough detail to showcase your qualifications and adhering to the one-page limit.
     
  6. Align with job description: Tailor your cover letter to the job ad, using keywords and phrases for ATS compatibility and demonstrating how your skills match the role.
     
  7. Show personality: Let your personality shine through with a bit of humour or personal anecdotes, but keep it professional.
     
  8. Emphasise soft skills with examples: Provide specific examples of how you've used your soft skills to achieve positive outcomes.
     
  9. Keep the tone upbeat: Maintain a professional, friendly, and positive tone throughout your cover letter.
     
  10. Use a template: Consider using a cover letter template to ensure visual consistency with your resume.
     
  11. Tease your resume: Give the hiring manager a reason to read your resume without repeating all the information from it.
     
  12. Avoid clichés: Stay clear of overused phrases and buzzwords, opting for original language that reflects your true voice.
     
  13. Proofread: Always check for spelling and grammatical errors, and consider having someone else review your cover letter.
     
  14. Explaining career gaps: If you're a non-traditional candidate, use your cover letter to explain career gaps or transitions, emphasising your diverse experiences and transferable skills.

Sample cover letter

Dear [Name of Hiring Manager],

With a track record of boosting customer satisfaction by 30% in a single quarter through innovative problem-solving and team collaboration, I was thrilled to discover the opening for [Job Title] at [Company Name]. Your commitment to [something you admire about the company, such as 'sustainable solutions' or 'cutting-edge technology'] resonates with my professional career aspirations.

At [Your Last Company], as [Your Last Position], I led a cross-functional team to address a critical project that was significantly behind schedule. By changing our project management approach and cultivating a culture of transparency and mutual support, we not only met our delivery deadline but also significantly enhanced the project's quality, leading to commendations from both our clients and senior management. This experience has equipped me with the resilience and creative thinking I'm eager to bring to the [Job Title] role at [Company Name].

My commitment to excellence extends beyond my primary job functions. For instance, I have actively engaged in [a short explanation of any significant achievements, certifications, or personal projects relevant to the job], further honing my skills in [relevant skill or area]. My portfolio [or LinkedIn profile, blog, etc.], which I invite you to explore, showcases work that has positively impacted my previous employers and clients.

I am particularly excited about contributing to [mention a project, initiative, or aspect of the company related to the position], applying my expertise in [mention one or two key skills related to the job] to further [Company Name]'s objectives. My attached resume provides a detailed overview of my accomplishments, including my role in [briefly mention an achievement or project that aligns with the job description].

Thank you for considering my application. I look forward to discussing how my skills and experience can align with the innovative work at [Company Name]. Please feel free to contact me at [Your Phone Number] or [Your Email] to arrange an interview at your convenience.

Warm regards,

[Your Name]

Read more:
How to know when it's time to resign - and how to leave well
5 tips for dealing with early career setbacks
Leading Women: Transcend gender bias with mental toughness

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