The first thing a potential employer sees in your job application is the cover letter. This doesn't just support your CV – it's an opportunity for you to stand out from the crowd and persuade the recruiter to put you through to the next round.
Be wary of spending hours on perfecting your CV at the expense of your cover letter. If you need some inspiration on what to include and what format to use, here are our helpful guides – just remember not to copy them as exact templates.
1. Standard, conservative style
This is ideal for sectors such as business, law, accountancy and retail. For more creative sectors, a letter like this might be less appealing, and could work against you.
Dear Mr Black,
Please find enclosed my CV in application for the post advertised in the Guardian on 30 November.
The nature of my degree course has prepared me for this position. It involved a great deal of independent research, requiring initiative, self-motivation and a wide range of skills. For one course, [insert course], an understanding of the [insert sector] industry was essential. I found this subject very stimulating.
I am a fast and accurate writer, with a keen eye for detail and I should be very grateful for the opportunity to progress to market reporting. I am able to take on the responsibility of this position immediately, and have the enthusiasm and determination to ensure that I make a success of it.
Thank you for taking the time to consider this application and I look forward to hearing from you in the near future.
2. Standard speculative letter
This may vary according to the nature of the organisation and the industry you're applying to.
Dear Mr Brown,
I am writing to enquire if you have any vacancies in your company. I enclose my CV for your information.
As you can see, I have had extensive vacation work experience in office environments, the retail sector and service industries, giving me varied skills and the ability to work with many different types of people. I believe I could fit easily into your team.
I am a conscientious person who works hard and pays attention to detail. I'm flexible, quick to pick up new skills and eager to learn from others. I also have lots of ideas and enthusiasm. I'm keen to work for a company with a great reputation and high profile like [insert company name].
I have excellent references and would be delighted to discuss any possible vacancy with you at your convenience. In case you do not have any suitable openings at the moment, I would be grateful if you would keep my CV on file for any future possibilities.
3. Letter for creative jobs
We've used the example of a copywriter but you can adapt it for your profession. The aim of a creative letter is to be original and show you have imagination, but understand what the job entails. Balance is essential: don't be too wacky, or it will turn off the reader.
Dear Ms Green,
· Confused by commas?
· Puzzled by parenthesis?
· Stumped by spelling?
· Perturbed by punctuation?
· Annoyed at the apostrophe? (And alliteration?)
Well, you're not alone. It seems that fewer and fewer people can write. Unfortunately, there are still a lot of people who can read. So they'll spot a gaffe from a mile off. And that means it's a false economy, unless you're 100% sure of yourself, to write your own materials. (Or to let clients do it for themselves.)
To have materials properly copywritten is, when one considers the whole process of publishing materials and the impact that the client wishes to make, a minor expense. Sloppiness loses clients, loses customers.
There is an answer. Me. Firm quotes are free. You can see some of what I do on my multilingual website at [insert web address]. If you'd like, I can get some samples out to you within 24 hours. And, if you use me, you'll have some sort of guarantee that you can sleep soundly as those tens of thousands of copies are rolling off the presses.
Luck shouldn't come into it!
With kindest regards
Other helpful resources
•How to write a perfect CV and cover letter
•Applying for jobs without experience? How to build and sell your skills
•Five steps to the perfect graduate CV
•School-leavers and graduates: how to write your first CV
•How to write a personal statement for your CV
•CV templates to fit every stage of your career
Looking for a job? Browse Guardian Jobs or sign up to Guardian Careers for the latest job vacancies and career advice
by Jimmy Sweeney©
Just like the late, great Rodney Dangerfield, the humble cover letter gets no respect either.
Job-seekers spend so much time and energy on their resume they’ve got nothing left to offer their poor, neglected cover letter.
Big… big mistake!
It is the well-written cover letter — not the resume — that can single-handedly land you more job interviews. The cover letter is your one chance to really market yourself to an employer using proven marketing strategies rarely found in the typical cover letter.
Conversely, there is only so much you can do with the traditional CV or resume. I believe the carefully crafted cover letter is more important to your job search success than any other written document including the resume.
As a direct-marketing professional for almost 20 years, I bring to you my seven elements of a highly effective job search cover letter:
- ADDRESS your cover letter to a REAL PERSON! Do your best to find out TO WHOM you should address your cover letter. “Dear Manager” is lifeless.
- OPEN with an attention-grabbing first sentence to really grip the reader. This approach will almost guarantee your cover letter and resume get a much closer look.
- REMEMBER — Less is MORE! The best cover letters have plenty of white space. Clear, focused, short and sweet gets the interview every time.
- FOCUS on what you can do for the employer. How can you benefit the company specifically? Do a little research and relate this value-added simply and clearly in your letter.
- CHOOSE WORDS that show enthusiasm and passion for the position you seek … (big, big secret!) Then, carry this passion into the interview with you.
- REQUEST ONE ACTION you want the employer to take: “I would really like the opportunity for a personal interview this week.” (You never know until you ASK)!
- END your cover letter with enthusiastic and telling verbiage, such as, “I look forward to being interviewed at your earliest convenience. Thank you so much for this opportunity. Sincerely, Jane Jobseeker.” (Notice how Jane assumes she’ll land the interview? This approach is clever, smart, and it works like a charm).
Think of your cover letter as a sales letter. The only purpose of your job-search cover letter is to land you job interviews. That’s the bottom line. By using the proven marketing strategies I’ve outlined above, you will land a great number of quality job interviews than your competition.
You must get your foot in the company door first to have any chance at all. With the right cover letter, you can blow several doors wide open immediately. More job interviews translate to a wider range of opportunity and (drum roll, please) … more job offers.
Finally, the most important advice I can offer you is this: Follow up every job lead, contact, and communication. Following up is the “golden key” to getting hired for the job of your dreams. Use follow-up cover letters, thank-you letters, and follow-up phone calls. Following up actually doubles your chance for success. It is also the one missing ingredient in 99 percent of all job seekers recipe book. Good news for you.
Now go out there and make your own luck!
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.
Jimmy Sweeney is the president of CareerJimmy and author of the new, “Amazing Cover Letter Creator.” Jimmy is also the author of several career-related books and writes a monthly article titled, “Job Search Secrets.” You can visit Jimmy on the Web at Amazing-Cover-Letters.com for your “instant” cover letter today.