Episode 47: Checklist for a Successful Cover Letter


Last time I covered the basics on cover letters, so today I want to have a more detailed look at what is often described as the motivation letter (or cover letter) which is increasingly being replaced by an email equivalent.

Over the past few weeks of putting these episodes together, I’ve talking to my HR and hiring manager friends and asked them what they feel is most important in a cover letter. What makes them sit up and read it? And from these comments I’ve been able to create a checklist for your cover letter, which will get you a step nearer to the job you really want.

So here it is:

  • Address the letter to the right company, and to the right person within that company. So many people copy-paste and forget to check who they are sending their letter to. Getting this wrong is guaranteed to get your CV into the reject pile.
  • If you can, address the letter to someone personally. There should be a contact on the job advert, but if there isn’t then think of it as an opportunity to really stand out – phone the company and find out who the letter should be addressed to and ask to talk to them.
    • Before making this phone call write down a few questions about the job. Make a note of how your skills match the advert, because in an ideal world you will actually talk to the person that will read your cover letter. Think of this as an opportunity to find out what is really important to them and possibly mention one or two skills that you have. However, don’t go overboard, remember that you are still taking up someone’s time unannounced and if you talk too long you may only end up annoying them. Finally, if you do talk to the recipient of the cover letter, mention this in the first paragraph of your letter so that they will better remember you.
  • Keep the letter short. If it is in letter form, keep it to one page only; and if it’s an email, the person reading it should not need to scroll down to read it all.
  • Structure: In a previous podcast I have stressed that you should structure your cover letter into clear paragraphs centred around your skills. However, an alternative method which one of my contacts pointed out to me was to format your skills in bullet points which are easier to skim. The choice is yours.
  • Check your work several times for spelling mistakes, sentence composition, and grammar. Then have someone else check it because it is so easy to miss mistakes that you have made yourself.
  • Highlight your relevant skills. Any skills that are highlighted should be from the point of view of the company – make sure it is clear why and how this skill will benefit them
  • Your cover letter should be far more personal than your CV, so I encourage you to be yourself. At the end of the day you want to work for a company in which you feel comfortable, so write about your skills in a way that shows your personality. Don’t just write what you think the company wants to hear!
  • Finally, if the company has asked you to include specific things in your cover letter – for example, writing about a specific skill or including your salary expectations – ensure that you have included them.

You now have the information you need to write stunning Cover letters. I wish you the very best of luck in your job search. Let me know how you get on or ask if you have questions.



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