Creating a winning cover letter

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Kym Freedman
Kym Freedman
Team GradAustralia
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Your cover letter is your marketing pitch. It needs to create a positive first impression to convince the reader that you should be selected for an interview.

This is your chance to expand, but not repeat, the information in your CV and to mention other details that are specifically related to the role. For example, it should cover why you are interested in the job, demonstrate that you have researched the organisation and outline the skills and experience you have that relate to the role.

Cover letters should be structured in a logical, informative way and reflect your unique professional brand. It will also showcase your communication skills – so check and recheck that your letter is free from errors.

Most importantly, your cover letter is the key for making you stand out. Each letter should be written for a specific role and a specific company, to demonstrate to the recruiter that you are the best person for the role through use of specific examples that link your skills and background to the company’s needs and culture.

How to start

Underline the keywords in the job advertisement or potential role that indicate skills and qualities sought. You now have a checklist to address and to help structure your cover letter.

Now, brainstorm the skills, experience and qualities you have that match each requirement. Include transferable skills along with relevant experience.

Research the employer, the sector and the role so that you can knowledgeably and confidently explain why you want to work for them. For example, if the employer has a strong commitment to corporate social responsibility, and you have a strong record in volunteer community work, use it as an example to show your alignment with their values.

Now, start writing!

Letter layout

  • Use a business style layout for the letter
  • Ensure names are spelt correctly and the proper title is used
  • Make every effort to get the personal name and title of the addressee, otherwise use: Dear Sir or Madam

Opening paragraph

  • Mention where you learned about the job or explain that you are contacting them to explore suitable employment opportunities
  • Name the position (and vacancy reference number if provided)
  • Express your enthusiasm to undertake the role and relevant course/knowledge
  • If you are writing at the recommendation of a mutual contact, mention the mutual acquaintance or referring party by name

Why are you the best candidate?

  • Promote yourself by stating the benefits of your experiences, not just listing the experiences
  • Demonstrate how your skills, knowledge, achievements and experience from your degree, employment and other activities match the job requirements and will enable you to contribute and add value to the organisation

Why this company?

  • Be concise and genuine
  • Make it clear that you have thought about why you want to work for them

The ending

  • Finish with a polite, positive statement reaffirming why you are the ideal candidate for the role
  • Refer to any attachments (such as resume, transcript etc.)
  • If writing speculatively, indicate your next action, for example, when you will make follow-up contact.

The golden rules

  • Keep your letter to one page
  • Ensure there are no spelling or grammatical errors
  • Sell yourself
  • Write a different letter for every job that you apply for

Some cover letter DONT’S

  • Don’t start the letter with ‘My name is …’ as these details are at the bottom of the letter
  • Don’t use a template letter or send an identical letter to hundreds of employers
  • Don’t overuse the personal pronoun “I” when starting sentences
  • Don’t use empty phrases such as “I believe I am a great candidate and meet all the requirements of this position”
  • Don’t use flattery, such as “It would be a great honour to…” or “Your esteemed organisation…”