Careers advice: Write a winning cover letter

30 June 2017

In this month’s careers blog Careers Manager Lisa Carr outlines how to write a cover letter with impact.

Many jobseekers fear writing cover letters and in fact many fail to include them in applications. This is a huge missed opportunity.

Whilst the CV is your marketing brochure, the cover letter is your advert. A good cover letter argues your case, grabs the employer’s attention, conveys your enthusiasm and showcases your communication skills.

Always include a cover letter wherever possible as a separate email attachment or pasted into the application form. The cover letter answers the questions “Why this job with this firm?” and “Why me?” – questions which you will need to address clearly if you are to perform well at interview.

Here are our tips on how to write a cover letter with real impact:

Write each cover letter from scratch
Persuasive cover letters are highly targeted to an exact role at a particular company, explaining how your blend of experience, skills and interests fit this role. Don’t be tempted to cut and paste any part of it, as employers can spot this straight away and it will lack authenticity.

Keep it short
Less is more, the letter needs to be no more than three quarters of a page maximum. Yes, this is hard – but employers want staff who can summarise complex material succinctly.

The aim of the cover letter is to get you an interview. Don’t try to summarise your CV. Instead, pick out three or four of the top job requirements and illustrate briefly how you meet them, as well as your interest in the role. You can explain the rest at interview.

Get to the point
You must grab the employer’s attention in the first two paragraphs or they will lose interest. Start with your most recent and relevant experience first – don’t tell them your life story.

The first sentence should explain very briefly who you are and should highlight any key brands (for example “I recently graduated with an Executive MBA from Warwick Business School after a ten year career in global telecommunications with Orange and T-Mobile.”) Clear, snappy sentences and short paragraphs will have more impact than long flowery statements and big chunks of text.

Focus on your USPs
Your next couple of paragraphs should highlight your key achievements as they relate to the core activities and priorities of this role. Think key headlines rather than detailed description (which they can find in the CV). Focus on what sets you apart from the competition rather than how you meet the basic requirements of the post.

Evidence all your statements
Every statement you make must include hard evidence. Rather than making generic statements such as “I am a skilled project manager with strong commercial awareness.” why not use “In the last two years, I have managed three £1m plus outsourcing projects, with the most recent exceeding profit expectations by 5%.”

Mirror the employer’s language
If the employer is asking for “cross functional management within a devolved matrix structure” then ensure that you describe your experience using the same terms. Using the same words and phrases can also help your application get through automated shortlisting software.

Be specific about your interest
It is essential that you are specific about what makes this firm distinctive for you. Avoid any phrases that could apply to a whole range of firms, such as “I would like to join a top tier global company such as xyz” or “I am impressed by your firm’s emphasis on training and development and your culture of diversity.” If your statement could equally apply to one of their competitors, it is not specific enough.

Aim to relate your interest to your specific expertise, values and interests. Show how your priorities and the firm’s priorities are aligned. Use the Marketline database which is free to WBS alumni to find company and sector information. Include evidence of initiative in researching the firm, including any employer events you have attended and conversations with your network.

Explain how the job fits your career path
You need to tell a clear career story so the employer understands why you are applying for this role at this point in your career – don’t assume this will be obvious. This is especially the case if the role is a sideways move or a career shift. This is also a good place to explain any gaps in your CV or relevant personal circumstances.

Use the right format
If you are applying for a job overseas, research local etiquette in how Cover letters are written. Advice and sample Cover letters are available free to WBS alumni on the individual country pages on the Going Global portal.

The new CV and cover letter module launches this month on the WBS Careers Management Course.