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How to write a cover letter, according to a recruitment expert

Listen to our cover letter expert or be resigned to the reject pile

Matty Edwards
Thursday 21 June 2018 14:59 BST
No more failed attempts after this expert guide
No more failed attempts after this expert guide (istockphoto)

When employers sift through hundreds of applications from people with good CVs, nailing your cover letter could make all the difference between that high-flying job and the doldrums of unemployment.

The eternal questions for job hunters are numerous: How long should my cover letter be? How formal should it be written? What are the do’s and don'ts?

Basics first

Recruitment gurus at Reed reckon a formally structured letter is the place to start. Your address and personal details aligned right and the employers’ aligned left.

Addressing the letter to someone mentioned on the job application is also essential, and “Dear Sir/Madam” if no name is given. If you’re feeling particularly lazy, Reed even provide a free cover letter template to get you started.

When employers are drowning in job applications, the last thing they want to do is to trudge their way through page after page of flowery prose. Keep it brief and make it clear and punchy. But how long is too long? Reed recommend no more than a side of A4.

Recruitment experts also say the key is not to just replicate the same generic cover letter for different jobs.

Instead you need to tailor it each time to include specific skills and show passion for what is undoubtedly your dream job, even if it is not.

Taking things to the next level

Beyond the basics, what do job hunting experts recommend to up your cover letter game?

Duncan Watt, who runs the website The CV & Interview Expert, told The Independent: “The best approach is to summarise the three to four most important things on the job description and then address these in a logical manner, highlighting briefly how your experience matches the requirements.

“If it is a speculative letter then look at the key requirements of the kind of role you are applying for, and the companies stated values, and apply the same principle,” he added.

Watt says one of the most common mistakes in cover letters is “overselling yourself, by making claims which if true would mean you don't need a job as you are already hugely successful”.

The other rooky error is talking about what you want from your next role. “Companies are generally more interested in what you bring to the table in the first instance,” he said.

For candidates who have spent the time building their CV and work experience, it can be tricky to cram it all into one cover letter without waffling on.

“Only cover things in the letter that relate to the company or job in question, if you have 20 skills but only four are relevant then focus on those four,” Watt said.

This article has been updated. It was originally published in December 2017.

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