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Six secrets to writing the perfect cover letter

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 allows your resume to be static and constant, as it 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. It should take some of the raw data from your resume and explain why it is applicable to the position you’re applying for. It should tell the employer a) how you are qualified for the job, and b) your reasons for applying.

Your resume provides your work history and your qualifications. If you’re planning on mentioning them in your cover letter as well – making your application needlessly longer – you should have a very good reason to.

Focus on structure

Giving yourself a solid framework to work within 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 John 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.
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.

Mirror what the employer wants

Try putting yourself in the employer’s shoes. 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. According to one study, some recruiters spend a total of six seconds looking at each application. That being the case, it’s important to ensure that your cover letter is brief and to the point.

Ideally, you’ll keep your cover letter to less than half a page. 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

For employers who have read your entire cover letter (all of them, as you’ll have written it well), the final sentence will be the most impactful. 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.

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.

For more information about writing job applications check out Deakin University’s resume tips.

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