Writing an effective cover letter can win you the job
A cover letter should not be a ‘two-liner’ with your resume attached. The aim of the application letter is to introduce yourself and to convince an employer that they should interview you. It should be positive, confident and contain the information needed for the employer to make that decision.
An application letter is usually your first contact with the prospective employer. It complements your resume, demonstrating your understanding of what the job entails, who the company is, and why you want to work for them. While your resume focuses on you, your letter should focus on the employer and how you are the best fit for them.
There are two kinds of application letters. The first is written in response to an advertised vacancy. The second is an introductory letter you send to a specific organisation to ask if they have a position that suits your skills, aspirations and expertise.
The first type of cover letter or application letter should clearly address the criteria outlined in the position description or job advertisement. You should also use the cover letter to answer any questions that are immediately evident in the advertisement. In your cover letter, discuss the following:
- How you qualify for the position.
- How you add value to the organisation.
- Why you want to work for them.
- What sets you apart from other candidates, and how that meets the employer needs.
- What you find attractive about the organisation – their values, goals, culture, reputation, products, projects, growth, target audience.
Important points to note
- Address the letter correctly. Spell names and titles accurately. If you are unsure of any details phone the company or the contact person given in the advertisement to ask for more information. If you do not know the name of the contact person begin your letter with ‘Dear Sir/Madam’.
- Be brief and to the point, trying to keep to one page where possible. In the first paragraph, include your objective, how you heard about the position and the specific position you are after. If you have researched the company mention why you are interested in working for the company.
- The last paragraph should encompass your closing argument, why you want the job, why you would like to work for their organisation (i.e. if you have researched them, you may know of their views on corporate, environmental or social responsibilities.These views or other information you may gain may be compatible with your own, if so say so!).
- State how you can be contacted and request an interview. Finish your letter with ‘Yours sincerely’ if addressing the letter with the name of the person, or ‘Yours faithfully’ if you do not. Type in your name and follow this with your written signature.
An introductory letter requires a different approach.
Consider it an employment proposal or business case – you’re asking an organisation to invest in you, so you have to prove that the investment is worthwhile. More importantly, you need to prove that they can’t afford not to employ you. To achieve this, ideally you want to identify a particular need or problem that the organisation is experiencing, and offer your expertise as a solution. While this approach requires a considerable level of research and time, it is a natural extension of a successful networking approach.
Your letter should present you as confident, in control and professional. It is vital that applications are mistake free. Spelling errors, grammatical mistakes or using the wrong words are irreversible mistakes that will see your application heading for the rubbish bin.
Read your letter out loud to help make sure words flow together properly and picks up those overlooked spelling mistakes.
With State and Federal Government positions you will almost certainly be required to answer job specific and common selection criteria.
This is a critically important component of the application and generally your application will simply be culled if you do not address the criteria. It can be a complex and time consuming task that may require specialist assistance.