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Write Your Cover Letter Step by Step


You’re about to compete with hundreds of applicants for your dream job. So how do you get your application short listed for an interview? How can you differentiate your application from hundreds of similar job seekers’?

The most powerful tool to do that is the cover letter. A cover letter connects your résumé (all about you) with the job advertisement (all about your prospective employer). A strategically written cover letter introduces you as the perfect match for the job requirements. It also requests an interview appointment. Recruiters prefer succinct letters, so let’s take a closer look at an easy formula for writing a cover letter in one page or less.

Header

Follow business protocol in your industry. In most cases the header includes your name and address (centred or aligned to the right), followed by the date and the addressee’s name and address.


Tip - Not sure how business communication should look in your industry? An old expression reminds us, imitation is the best form of flattery, so why not imitate your prospective employer’s business communications? Seek out a copy of their letterhead and mimic the layout.

Greeting

When a cover letter addresses the recipient by name, it will always outperform a generic “Dear Sir/Madam” salutation. If not specified in the job advertisement, you should make the effort to find out the recruiter’s name. It’s as easy as a phone call to the company’s switchboard or receptionist. Of course, once you know their name, include a personal greeting.

Example:

Dear Mr Thomson,

Headline (Optional)

If you were asked to describe yourself in only one sentence, what would you say? A headline is a great opportunity to capture the recruiter’s attention in a single statement. Consider highlighting rare qualities such as industry-specific skills, sought-after qualifications, significant years of experience or outstanding personal characteristics.

Examples:

  • Attaché Payroll Expert, 6 Years Management Experience
  • Sales Manager Experienced with Multi Million Dollar Government Portfolios
  • New Graduate Motivated to Work for the Best


Tip - When not to include a headline: If you simply can’t decide on a headline, can not write anything persuasive, or believe that a single headline would detract from other features within your cover letter, consider omitting the headline altogether.

Opening Paragraphs

The following simple three sentence outlines makes the opening paragraph(s) easy to write.

  1. In the first sentence, state the job you are applying for, where you saw it advertised and quote job reference numbers (if applicable).
  2. In sentence two, make an interesting and compelling statement about yourself. Mention the key reason you believe you’re perfect for the job. (If you like, simply expand upon your headline.)
  3. Sentence three should indicate why you are motivated to fill the position and why you are motivated to work for this particular company.

Example:

I wish to apply for the Payroll Manager position (Ref. #45978) advertised in The West Australian, 28-2-2011.

With 6 years’ experience as Payroll Officer for over 1500 employees, I offer XYZ Company the promise of a smooth, hassle-free payroll department. I have advanced Attaché abilities, in-depth knowledge of industry tax rules and employee relations.

I am looking to further my career and the position of Payroll Manager with a large international firm such as XYZ company would be the ideal opportunity.

Tip - Remember to include the employer in your letter. Don’t only write about yourself. Instead, write about yourself in the context of the employer’s requirements and how you meet their needs.

Additional Paragraphs (Optional)

In most cases a cover letter should be kept as short as possible. Occasionally a job application will require a more in-depth cover letter with additional paragraphs including:

  • When the job advertisement specifically requests a detailed cover letter
  • When the job advertisement tells you to address selection criteria with a cover letter
  • When you wish to highlight skills or experience that are understated in your résumé
  • When you wish to impress recruiters with a written demonstration of your expertise, industry knowledge, new thought or unique idea

Example:

I understand XYZ Company is undergoing significant internal expansion due to the boom in the mining industry. New employees means added payroll pressure. I believe my advanced knowledge and efficient management skills will contribute to a successful Payroll Department and to the overall success of XYZ Company in 2011.


Closing Paragraph


Use the closing paragraph to request an interview. State when you are available and how you wish to be contacted. Don’t neglect this important step. You want your reader to know you’re serious about the opportunity and expect to speak to them further. Keep in mind other candidates will be asking for an interview. Don’t let yourself get left behind.

Example:

I look forward to discussing this opportunity with you in the near future. I am available for interview at your earliest convenience. I can be contacted on 0412 123 456 or name@myemail.com.au.

Signature

With your letter complete, you can breathe a sigh of relief and sign off with a signature. A standard “Yours sincerely” is sufficient.

Example:

Yours sincerely,
Johnathon Smith

Postscript (Optional)

Employment coaches sometimes recommend adding a postscript after your signature. Whilst uncommon, it is perfectly acceptable and very effective at drawing the reader’s attention. In fact, the P.S. will probably be the very first item a recruiter notices when glancing at your letter.

Whether you choose to include a postscript or not is entirely up to you. If you decide it’s a good idea, we advocate stating a date for follow-up as shown in this example. (Just remember to follow up when you say you will!)

Example:

P.S. If I don’t hear from you beforehand, I will follow up with a courtesy phone call on Monday 3rd, to make sure you received my application.

The End Result - Cover Letter Example


Johnathon Smith
Street Address
Telephone Number
Email Address


17th January 2011

William Thomson
CEO
XYZ Company
123 Sunny Street, Perth, WA


Dear Mr Thomson,
 

Attaché Payroll Expert, 6 Years Experience


I wish to apply for the Payroll Manager position (Ref. #45978) advertised in The West Australian, 15-1-2011.

With 6 years’ experience as Payroll Officer for over 1500 employees, I offer XYZ Company the promise of a hassle-free payroll department. I have advanced Attaché abilities, in-depth knowledge of industry tax rules and employee relations.

I am looking to further my career and the position of Payroll Manager with a large international firm such as XYZ company would be the ideal opportunity.

I understand XYZ Company is undergoing significant internal expansion due to the boom in the mining industry. New employees means added payroll pressure. I believe my advanced knowledge and efficient management skills will contribute to a successful Payroll Department and to the overall success of XYZ Company in 2011.

I look forward to discussing this opportunity with you in the near future. I am available for interview at your earliest convenience. I can be contacted on 0412 123 456 or name@myemail.com.au.

Yours sincerely,

Johnathon Smith

P.S. If I don’t hear from you beforehand, I will follow up with a courtesy phone call on Tuesday 25th to make sure you received my application.
 
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