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How to write a great cover letter

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Covering letters are generally used when responding to a position that has been advertised through the media. You use a covering letter as a way to introduce yourself to the reader.

Your covering letter should complement your resume by highlighting the most relevant aspects from your work history or training, which relates to the position you are applying for.

How to set out your letter

Your covering letter, like any letter, is made up of contact addresses, date, greeting (salutation), subject line, body and closing. 

Contact addresses

Your letter will include two contact addresses - first your own and then the recipient’s. Your contact details should include your name, postal address, phone number and email if appropriate. 

You address your letter to the contact person listed in the job advertisement, including their name, job title, company and address. 

Date

Include the date of when you write the letter. Write the date as day, month and year ie. 26 January 2019. The date should be placed a couple of spaces before the recipient's address.

Greeting or salutation

Your greeting should be “Dear Mr/Mrs/Ms/Dr XXX” and their surname – do not use their first name (i.e. Dear Joe). If the contact person is listed by title and not name, for example “The General Manager”, try to find out their name. If this is not possible, you can use the greeting of “To whom it may concern”. 

Subject line

The subject line is included between the greeting and the body, it is one line summarising the purpose of the letter. The subject line should be in bold at start with “RE:” (for regarding). For example, “RE: Application for XXX position”. 

Body of the letter

The body of the letter is made up of five key points: 

  • What position are you applying for: state the job that you are applying, and when and where the job was advertised. If you are applying for a position which has not been advertised, state the type of position you are applying for.
  • What are your qualifications for the position: state your credentials, including present/previous work history or experience, study and relevant skills and abilities.
  • Why do you want the position: state why you are seeking the position – if appropriate, knowledge of the company or business may be mentioned at this time.
  • List attachments: state that your resume and any other information that has been requested, for example selection criteria, has been attached.
  • State how and when you can be contacted for an interview.

 

Closing

Finish your letter with “Yours sincerely” a few blank lines (leave enough room for your signature) and then your name. 

Tips for writing your cover letter

  • Keep the letter to one A4 page – keep it short and to the point.
  • Language: Be sure to make your letter clear and concise. Use everyday language; for example, don't use ‘expedite' when you mean ‘hurry'. Avoid using slang and abbreviations.
  • Substance: Look for keywords used in the job advertisement and respond to them. For example, ‘The position requires an outgoing person with demonstrated capacity to work in a team'. The keywords here are outgoing, demonstrated and teamwork. If you show you meet the criteria you increase your chances of an interview.
  • Make a draft; when you are satisfied that it reads well get a second opinion by asking a friend to review it.
  • Tailor each letter to suit the job you are applying for.
  • Type the letter if possible, unless a handwritten letter is requested.
  • Check that the letter is correctly set out and contains no typing or spelling errors.
  • Sign and date the letter.
  • Proof read very carefully!