How to write an engaging cover letter

What is a cover letter?

A cover letter is your opportunity to communicate your personality, ambitions and skillsets relative to your prospective employers. Although you may want to let your resume speak for itself, some recruiters consider a cover letter to be the most important aspect of any job application.

Typically, a cover letter is a document that is submitted alongside your resume when applying for job vacancies. Think of your cover letter as your shop front – a chance to sell yourself and make a positive first impression.

A resume is intended to communicate the facts about your career and education. It is a formal record of your achievements and qualifications that can set you apart from other candidates. A cover letter should be used to supplement this, making you as credible and as memorable as possible in the eyes of recruiters.

Although there is no defined template for what a cover letter should look like, rule number one is that your cover letter must be tailored to every job you apply for. Avoid a templated approach as this is unlikely to impress prospective employers, who may feel that your cover letter lacks originality and respect for their vacancy.

In a competitive market, is it essential to get your cover letter right and learn insightful tips to help you find the right job. This comprehensive guide to writing an engaging cover letter that complements your resume will lead you through each step of the process. A great cover letter could give you the best possible chance of securing an interview.

Why is a cover letter important?

A good cover letter can spark the interest of recruiters and HR departments, enticing them to read your resume and investigate your potential further. Note that there is a world of difference between a good cover letter and a bad one. A bad cover letter could see your resume go immediately into the rejection pile, without prospective employers even considering your qualifications and past achievements. The effort needed to prepare an eye-catching cover letter is definitely worth it.

Ilil Ginsburg, a Silicon Valley-based Senior Recruiter and Career & Branding Expert, emphasizes the importance of addressing a specific person when possible.

“The cover letter should be addressed, if possible, to the hiring manager.”

How long should a cover letter be?

What is the ideal length of a cover letter? 250-300 words is usually enough. Ms Ginsburg believes that being direct and straightforward is key in an increasingly competitive market.

Your opening paragraph

Get your covering letter off to the right start by using the correct greeting. Never use “Dear Sir or Madam” or “To Whom It May Concern”, as both greetings will appear templated to recruiters and should be restricted to applying for highly formal vacancies. Instead, you should make the effort to find the name of the prospective employer or line manager and address your cover letter directly to them.

Depending on the formal or informal nature of the industry you are targeting, you may be able to drop the title and opt for “Dear John Smith” or “Dear John” instead of “Dr or Mr. John Smith”.

It is important to begin with an engaging elevator pitch—something that will grab the attention of recruiters and create a sense of intrigue about your application.

Ginsburg suggests that you keep the tone relatively casual and the length concise while emphasizing which of your qualities best match the role.

“Jot down a paragraph emphasizing how you are a perfect fit for the role. Be straightforward. Mention the job requirements and why you tick all those boxes.”

The body of your cover letter

Now that you have taken care of the greeting and gotten the recruiter’s attention with a killer elevator pitch, it is time to reveal your personality in the body of your cover letter.

Do not recite your resume

While your resume should act as your factual record of qualifications and achievements, your cover letter should paint a bigger, multi-dimensional picture of you as an individual. Why would you be an ideal fit for your prospective employer? Do not just repeat what your resume says in descriptive language. Explain your story and build a picture of your career.

Talk about what you can bring to your prospective employer

One of the most common pitfalls of cover letters is to talk about how the vacancy could improve your career and help you develop and grow as a professional. Most prospective employers are more interested in what you can offer them. Within the body of your cover letter, try to determine the pain points of your prospective employer and explain why you have the skills and experience to overcome those challenges.

When you explain what you can bring to a business, Ginsburg recommends that you outline your past experience throughout your career so far, giving examples of how you successfully navigated challenges and which measurable results you delivered.

Use the job description to make your cover letter relevant

Keep the job description visible as you write your cover letter. Using the job description as the basis for the body of your letter ensures you mention the right keywords and skills that a hiring manager will look for while reading.

Make sure that you touch on each of the core requirements within that job description so your prospective employer knows you have what they are looking for in their next recruit. Explain how your skill set enables you to deliver on these objectives for the business.

Demonstrate knowledge of your prospective employer

HR departments are employed to find recruits that fit the culture of the business. How do you know what the company culture is? This requires you spend some time researching the business and its business model. Do your interests and passions align with their products or services? Are you motivated by the working environment? If so, tell them about it.

Emphasize your strengths

If you are writing a cover letter for the first time, it’s important to keep it positive. If you are inexperienced when it comes to job applications and meeting job description criteria, do not apologize in writing for failing to meet all of the requirements. Doing so draws recruiters’ attention to your weaknesses. Just stick to your strongest attributes and the skills that can transfer into your new role.

Do not be afraid to throw in recommendations and testimonials

Including testimonials from former colleagues and managers can help to cement your reputation and integrity. Testimonials should not come across as self-congratulatory in the eyes of recruiters, so be sure not to overuse them in your letter. Third-party endorsements of your personality and skillset can help hiring managers build a picture of you before meeting you in person.


alt"light-bulb-1" Be careful not to make your cover letter too long-winded with testimonials. Hiring managers will sift through hundreds of applications in most cases, so it’s important to keep things concise.

Closing your cover letter

The finishing line is in sight. You have introduced yourself and provided an engaging and concise overview of your skillset and knowledge of your prospective employer. It is now time to wrap things up.

  • Use your closing paragraph as a chance to reiterate your skillset
    The temptation is to use closing words that can ring somewhat hollow to hiring managers. Ending your cover letter with “look forward to hearing from you soon” may feel like a throwaway comment in the eyes of some recruiters. Instead, make every word count towards your application. Use your closing statement as a chance to reemphasize your knowledge of the company and its objectives. If the vacancy is a considerable distance from your home, you may wish to add that you are prepared to relocate. It all helps to demonstrate the seriousness of your application.
     
  • Choose the right ending based on the recipient
    If you know the individual you are writing to, it is acceptable to use “sincerely” to close your cover letter, but you can also use “regards” or “best regards.”  Avoid using informal endings like “thank you” or “cheers.”

alt"key-1" Once the cover letter has been submitted with your resume, do not wait for the hiring manager to get back to you. Be proactive with your job applications and follow up on your applications. Some job hunters improve their rate of success with this approach, as it shows that you have true interest in role and are not simply sending off multiple applications in the hope that one is successful.

Choosing the right tone

Striking the right tone in your letter is just as important as choosing the content itself.  

Consider the culture of your prospective employer

As you research your prospective employer, you should try to understand the company culture. Do you get a sense that the company is a relaxed and informal place to work? Or is it a professional, corporate environment that does things by the book? Either way, it is important to mirror your prospective employer’s tone of voice and language in your cover letter. This is another way of convincing the hiring manager that you understand and would fit into their culture.

Keep it professional yet personable

Although we recommend that your cover letter embellishes your strengths and minimize your weaknesses, be moderate. Be careful with words like “thrilled,” “excited,” or phrases like “over the moon.” Write with personality, but be clear and concise to show respect for your prospective employer.

Key elements of a fascinating cover letter

Choose the right formatting

Use single or 1.15 line spacing, with double spacing between paragraphs and sections. Ensure all personal information is clearly visible. Use simple, professional fonts like Calibri or Helvetica.

Begin your cover letter with a strong opening statement

There is no need to lead with your name in a cover letter as the hiring manager can find your name on your resume. Use the first lines of your cover letter to make an opening statement that grabs the recruiter’s attention and invites them to read more.

Articulate your interest in the company and the role

Make it clear why the company attracted you to the vacancy and why you are interested in working for the business. This will help to convince hiring managers that you are a good cultural fit for the company.

Highlight your unique selling points as an individual

Be positive but not overbearing about your skillset and what you can offer to your prospective employer. Match your unique selling points to the job description to demonstrate that you are ideally suited to the vacancy.

Back up your skill-set with tangible evidence

Add credence to your skill-set by providing tangible results from your previous work. This could be anything from increased sales or improved ROI to growing a customer base or improving customer retention.

Closing statement

Writing a cover letter does not have to be daunting. By following these guidelines and taking a clear, straightforward approach, your cover letter will help you stand out of the crowd, highlight your personality with authenticity and open doors for your first interview.