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Cover letter Do's and Don'ts

Posted on 15 December 2021

Cover letter Do's and Don'ts

5-minute read

​Love them or hate them, cover letters are here to stay. Of course, using one is at your discretion, but a well-written cover letter is far more than a simple document accompanying your CV. 

When you get a cover letter right, they truly add value to your application, share far more about your personality and let the hiring manager learn more about you than the more formal CV.

In this article we will introduce several do’s alongside some very important don’ts when writing a compelling cover letter, allowing you to put yourself in the right position if you opt for the route of a cover letter.

Let’s begin with the do’s…

Address the individual by their actual name

More often than not, when reading a cover letter, you can immediately tell what the ‘tone’ of the letter will be by who you are addressing it to.

We cover salutations not to choose later in the article, but for here, we highly recommend before submitting an application with a cover letter, you spend some time researching who the actual hiring manager will be for the position you are applying to.

Many companies will have their management team on the company’s website, alternatively, you can use social media to find the possible hiring manager or check to see if the job specification indicates who this person might be.

Starting your cover letter with the actual hiring managers name or HR managers name will indicate that this is not a copy and paste cover letter, increasing your chances they will read it (which is obviously what we want).

Tailor your opening paragraph to the employer

We appreciate that trying to customise a cover letter for every single opening can be tough, especially when you are applying for multiple companies. This little tip will help speed up your cover letter writing, whilst still making them tailored for each role.

After we have addressed the right person (or at least attempted to) and have caught their attention, we have a few seconds to hold this attention. This is where we tailor our opening paragraph to that specific client (or opening), expressing your interest and highlighting some research you have done towards the company will keep them engaged as you move on in the cover letter to your background.

Explain how you can fulfil the opening

If the opening paragraph was gripping enough, we should have the reader locked in for the rest of the cover letter. You now want to express more about your skills and how your past can help fulfil the current position. Here it is not enough to simply regurgitate your CV, instead, you should position your writing around a question, and the best one to try and answer is ‘why should we hire you’. 

In doing this, you focus your writing on a specific example, and if you are aware of the STAR technique for situational based questions, we recommend this (if not, we have an article for that coming soon!).

The rest of your CV should be reserved for this, bringing forward examples of your past and relating them to the current opening. Remember to give enough information to the reader to make them want to invite you to discuss more.

Sign off the letter

To close off the cover letter, finalise your interest once more into the opening and sign it with your name (it is crazy how often people forget to do this!).

Attach a way to be communicated

Either at the top of the letter or at the end, attach a form of communication. Check that the communication provided is the same on both your CV and cover letter.

Keep your letter tight and avoid team jargon

If this is the first time writing a cover letter, you might be left with a very long document. Where you can, keep the letter tight and to the point, try your best to avoid team jargon and if you are using technical terms or acronyms focus on industry standards.

Check grammar and structure

To close up the do’s when writing a cover letter, ensure you check your grammar and the structure of the document. We highly recommend having a friend, family member or trusted recruiter also check it over before you start using it, that way you can gather an alternative opinion.

Now let’s look into the don’ts…

Use generic salutations

On the flip side to addressing the right person at the beginning of a cover letter, we highly recommend against using generic salutations.

Salutations such as: ‘To whom it may concern’ or ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ or ‘To the HR Manager’.

All of these salutations are not incorrect, but if you are going to the effort of writing a cover letter, choosing a generic salutation overdoing a little research to understand who the hiring manager is (or could be) seems crazy to us.

Where possible, avoid these salutations, if you really are not sure who the person to address is, then we recommend the CTO (if technical) or the HR Director (or highest HR role in the company).

Rehash your CV with the same content

A lot of people make this common mistake, they simply rewrite their CV in the cover letter. Forgetting the purpose of the cover letter is to be a supporting document, not the same in another format.

Following the structure highlighted previously in this article will help you not fall into this trap when crafting your own.

Waste prime real estate

Your cover letter when written correctly should be concise with high impact in every line. However, many write their cover letters with a lot of flowery words and as a result waste a lot of prime real estate in their letter, thus causing it to be much longer than needed.

Be strict on what you write, ensure that the examples you use are relevant to the opening you are applying for and position your application in the best possible light.

Generalise your cover letter

By now, you should realise that cover letters should be tailored for each application, so this ‘don’t’ should be relatively straight-forward. Avoid generalising your cover letter, it is painfully obvious when this is the case and it will do more damage than good. If you intend to use a generalised cover letter, we really encourage you to simply not send one, it won’t have the impact you need and it will simply be a waste of your time.

Talk about the wrong company

You read that right… make sure you know what company and position you are applying for, before you start writing a cover letter. On top of this, ensure you save the document under the right company or opening, there is nothing worse than a cover letter addressed to the wrong company, when this happens it will be extremely unlikely you will hear back.

And there we have it, our top advice for the do’s and don’ts to writing a cover letter. There are more avenues to explore with writing a cover letter outside of these such as persuasive and creative writing techniques but we will cover them at a later date. As for now, however, this should set you on the right path if a cover letter is a route you want to use with your applications.

As always, if you learnt something and feel someone in your network might also, then we would appreciate if you could share this article with them with the aim of bringing simplicity to the chaos of recruitment for everyone.

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