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How to Write a Cover Letter: 5 Top Tips for Success

15 March 2021   |   by Explore Careers

Does writing a cover letter fill you with a sense of dread? You’re not alone.

You might be wondering, where do I even start? And if you’re anything like us, you’re definitely thinking, does anyone even read these?

It’s super tempting not to even bother! But if the job application specifically asks for one, you need to make sure you’re supplying one – or your application will be completely discounted.

First things first, what exactly is a cover letter for?

The cover letter is your first introduction to a prospective employer. It’s where you set the stage for your resume, experience and reasons for applying for the job.

Cover letters can also be speculative. In an open job market, sending out your cover letter and resume to employers you’re interested in before they have job openings can be a great way to get yourself on the radar. A cover letter in this sense is where you outline why you’re interested in the company and what you have to offer.

A cover letter IS:

  • Your opportunity to create a great first impression.
  • A short, snappy window into your experience and specific skills.
  • Your ‘elevator pitch’ to give the employer a chance to get to know you.
  • Professional and straightforward.

A cover letter IS NOT:

  • A replication of your resume.
  • An essay opportunity where you tell your life story.
  • Where you beg for the job.

To help you get over the dreaded cover letter fear, we’ve pulled together our top five tips for success:

5 top tips for nailing that cover letter

1. Do your research and address your letter properly

Avoid generic opening lines like ‘To Whom It May Concern’ or ‘Dear Sir or Madam’ – they’re archaic and don’t demonstrate you’ve done your research. Find out the hiring managers name (it could be included in the job description, or do some research on the company website/LinkedIn). If you can’t find the hiring manager’s name, try addressing your cover letter to the department head of the role you’re applying for. If you really can’t find a name to address your cover letter, use something like ‘Systems Engineer Hiring Manager’ or ‘Administrative Team Leader’.

2. Highlight the experiences that most closely align with the job

Unsure which of your past experiences you should be featuring? Make sure you read through the job description! Pick 2-3 pieces of experience or achievements you have that are most relevant and focus on these. Don’t be afraid to align them directly to the job description too, saying, “I noticed the role calls for *this* skillset, which is something developed from doing from *this* role/project/experience”.

3. Showcase your relevant skills

When you’re starting in the workforce, it’s natural you might not have the same experience that matches the job role you’re applying to – and that’s not something to be afraid of! Instead, you have a tonne of transferable skills to offer, so focus on highlighting those. Think about school projects, team sports, volunteering, odd jobs you may have done – and use these to back up what you’ve got to offer.

4. Don’t apologise for lack of experience – focus on the positives you offer!

There will be times when you apply for a job where you don’t have perfectly aligned experience or tick every single box on the selection criteria – but that doesn’t mean you’re not a great candidate! Don’t downplay the experience you do have, and don’t draw attention to what you don’t. Instead of saying something like, “Despite my limited experience in this industry…” say something like “I’m excited to translate my experience from doing *this* to this position because I’ll bring *these* skills.”

5. Make sure you edit with a fine-tooth comb!

Spelling and grammar are super important – especially if you’ve said attention to detail is a top skill! Make sure you give yourself time to review and edit your cover letter. You can use spell check or software like Grammarly (it’s free!) – and also read your cover letter out loud. You’d be surprised at how helpful this is for finding errors. Ask a trusted friend, sibling or parent to give it a proofread for you too – a fresh pair of eyes never hurts.

Make sure you polish up a new cover letter for each new job too. It’s okay to recycle a few sentences but writing a fresh one for each job will get you in the mindset for that company, and it will show to the employer!

Couple a tailored cover letter with a polished resume, and you’ll be on the way to your next interview (and job role) in no time.

Interested in finding the right career for you and your new resume?

Try our Career Quiz to see where you should get started!


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