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How to write a cover letter that will land you a dream job

Applying for jobs can be a messy and stressful business. Almost everyone will have their own tips and tricks when it comes to writing the perfect cover letter, and if you’re shopping around for guidance, you’ll often end up with conflicting advice.

One universally acknowledged truth is the importance of a cover letter. To many, it’s just as important as the resume. A cover letter serves the purpose of targeting the specific employer you’re sending it to, highlighting your appropriateness for the job.

Writing a great cover letter will have your application standing out from the rest, and give the employer clear reasons why you’re the right person for the job. It could be the difference between landing your dream job and not even getting a call back. So whether you’re taking the next step forward, looking for your first graduate job or changing careers, here’s how to write a great cover letter.

Separate your cover letter from your resume

Your cover letter shouldn’t be seen as an opportunity to rewrite your CV in paragraph form. A cover letter is a chance to show what you can bring to a position over and above the strengths and experience found in your resume.

‘Cover letters should be adapted to each position you’re applying for highlighting the parts of your resume most appropriate to the job by giving specific evidence showing you are right for the role,’ advises Sandy Babiolakis, a career consultant with DeakinTALENT.

You can think of your cover letter as an introduction to your application. It should take some of the raw data from your resume and explain why it is applicable to the position you’re applying for. Highlight the qualifications, skills and experience you have that are most relevant to the role, and take the opportunity to make the case for why you’re a good match.

‘It should also highlight why you are interested in the role and organisation,’ Babiolakis adds.

Your cover letter should tell the employer a) how you are qualified for the job, and b) your reasons for applying.

Structure your cover letter the right way

Working within the solid framework of a cover letter format will ensure that your cover letter is kept short and impactful. A well-structured cover letter might consist of:

  • A salutation This will depend on how much contact information you have, but if you’ve got a specific name, use it formally (e.g. Dear Mr Smith). If you’re unable to get a contact name, simply start with your opening paragraph.
  • An opening paragraph Create a positive first impression, and get their attention by showing some knowledge of their company and why you want to work there. ‘I would say the opening paragraph is most impactful,’ Babiolakis says. So make it work hard for you.
  • The body Begin with a clear topic sentence identifying your skills, qualifications, knowledge and interests that are applicable to the role. Provide real world examples of the use of these attributes. Use positive, convincing, active language to make your points.
  • A closing paragraph Begin by reaffirming the points made in your opening paragraph – that you’re interested in the position and believe you’d be a good fit. Invite the employer to read your resume, and indicate your desire to meet with them face-to-face. ‘End with thanking them for their considering your application and end off appropriately with “Yours sincerely” or “Kind regards,”’ Babiolakis adds.

Mirror what the employer wants

Try putting yourself in the employer’s shoes. Babiolakis advises that you ‘make a list of what they employer is asking for.’

What would their ideal candidate be? Analyse the job ad and identify their focus. Perhaps the ad repeatedly mentions the need for good organisational skills, or indicates a preference for candidates with great Microsoft Excel skills. Form a dot point list of these preferred traits.

Now you need to show the employer how your selling points line up with what they’re after. Did you have a role in a previous job that required excellent organisational skills? Have you previously completed a Microsoft Office suite course? This marrying of their needs and your strengths will form the main body of the letter.

Keep it short and punchy

Anyone who has looked through job applications before can tell you that very little time is spent considering each one.

‘A cover letter should be no more than one page,’ Babiolakis advises.

You’ll get straight to the relevant information, without fluffing it out. You’ll be clear and simple in your language, and use short, punchy sentences.

Finish with a mic drop

‘The final paragraph is the call to action,’ Babiolakis says.

Different closing sentences will suit different situations. You may want to use it to tell them why you’d like to work with them, why you feel passionately about the role, or why you’d be the best candidate for it. Be sure to spend time crafting the perfect closer. When you find it, you’ll know.

Take time for the finishing touches

Before you finalise your cover letter, it’s a good idea to have someone you trust look over it.

‘It’s important to review your completed cover letter for any spelling or grammar errors. Apart from not being professional, its shows poor attention to detail,’ Babiolakis points out.

Send the right type of file

Cover letter completed, you’re now ready to send the application. But before you do, it’s important that you convert it to PDF. There are a few reasons for this. A PDF file offers security, as it can’t be altered at the receivers end. It can’t be corrupted, with the page layout becoming distorted on conversion in Word. A PDF looks polished and professional.

A well written cover letter is a digital version of a strong and confident handshake. It offers you a chance to make a great first impression to potential employers, and allows you to sell your suitability to the position. It is often the difference between receiving a ‘thanks for applying’ email, and a phone call to arrange an interview.

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