Perhaps one of the most challenging parts of the job application process (and often underestimated) is writing an effective cover letter. A cover letter is like a personalised letter from you, to the person overseeing the hiring process for the job you’re applying for. Because it’s often the first point of contact you make with a potential employer, hiring manager or recruiter for a job application, the cover letter’s aim is to formally introduce yourself and summarise what makes you a great fit for both the role and the organisation you’re applying for – in terms of your experience, skills, interests etc. Consequently, a cover letter - especially if done effectively - is the best way to gain the attention of the hiring manager or recruiter and distinguish yourself from other candidates, which in a competitive job market will give you a significant advantage. But, just like writing an effective resume or preparing for a job interview, writing an effective cover letter is a skill and there are key factors that will differentiate a good cover letter from a bad one. To help those currently applying for new jobs, we elaborate on these key factors below:
Sometimes, a job application will say ‘cover letter optional’ But is it really optional? There is conflicting advice on this and it will depend on the industry that you work within or the role you apply for – for some industries including a cover letter is considered more important than others (Kramer, L. 2021). There’s also a theory that recruiters or hiring managers inundated with applications will often skip or skim over cover letters and go straight to the resume. Even if this is the case, it’s always better to be overprepared than underprepared when applying for roles and ultimately a recruiter or hiring manager is never going to look unfavourably on a candidate who’s provided a cover letter – at the very least it shows you’ve thought about the role and have put effort into your job application. And while preparing a cover letter can be time-consuming and the thought that it might not even be looked at is disheartening, it’s worth the additional effort if it makes the difference between getting a call-back for a role because it’s grabbed the hiring manager’s attention, as opposed to being cast aside.
The Australian online HR and consulting platform Seek, advise that the only time that you shouldn’t write a cover letter is when the job posting explicitly says not to send one, or when the application process doesn’t allow you to provide one (Seek, 2020). This can sometimes happen with online application systems which only allow for data to be entered into specific boxes or don't let you attach additional documents. However, even when this is the case you can try and include your cover letter in the same document as your resume or find someone within the organisation who you can send a brief follow-up email to, formally introducing yourself and highlighting the key points from your application (Gallo, A. 2020).
Before you start writing your cover letter, it’s important that you have a good grasp on both the role and the organisation you’re applying for, to ensure you can effectively demonstrate your compatibility to the role in question and customise the cover letter to align with the organisation’s values. In addition to carefully reading the job description, it’s recommended to look over the company website, employee profiles on Linkedin or any press statements or public reports you can access. This will help you to better gauge the key goals and culture of the organisation. Once you have this information, you can then include it throughout your resume to demonstrate the research you’ve undertaken and further highlight why you would be a great fit. For example – I’ve always admired the work company X produces and have read some exciting articles about the company’s expansion into the Asian-Pacific market. Having worked in Hong Kong for a number of years, I would love to be able to apply my knowledge working within that market and help support your organisation during this exciting period of growth.
It’s also important when addressing a cover letter to avoid the generic ‘Dear Sir/Madame’ or ‘To whom it may concern', as this isn’t personal and won’t help your application stand out. Addressing the cover letter to the specific person in charge of the hiring process is a much more effective way to capture their attention and shows initiative. Sometimes, within the job application, they’ll mention a specific person to send the application to, but if you’re not sure, this can be another thing to look into while researching the company. You can always call the organisation first to ask, or you can look through the employers associated with the organisation on Linkedin and try and see if you can determine the person who the job in question will report to within the company. You can then address the cover letter to that position within the organisation.
One of the most important things to remember when constructing your cover letter is that it should be relevant to the specific position you apply for, which requires altering your cover letter each time you apply for a particular role. Not only does tailoring your cover letter to each role make you think carefully about whether the job is the right fit for you, but it increases the likelihood of capturing the hiring manager or recruiters attention. For example, a candidate who is able to highlight their experience in a particular software that was mentioned in the particular job advertisement is going to appeal and stand out to a recruiter or hiring manager more than someone that has a blanket statement listing all the software platforms they’ve used. This is because the candidate has been able to effectively demonstrate that they understand the role requirements and possess the necessary skills and knowledge.
Tailoring a cover letter doesn’t necessarily mean you have to start from scratch with every new application but as no two job ads are the same, the wording in your cover letter should always reflect these differentiations. In addition to specifically addressing the company and role in each cover letter, job advertisements will have a number of ‘keywords’ scattered through their key capabilities and responsibility sections- words like ‘HSEQ’ or ‘compliance’ for example. Being able to match these keywords within your cover letter (where applicable) will further help demonstrate to HR professionals and recruiters that you’ve taken the time to digest what the role will entail. It will also help to visually convey your suitability to the role in question.
When writing your cover letter it’s a good idea to provide one or two recent work examples, to help showcase your relevant experience and skillset. Remember that your resume will list all of your strengths and skills. For your cover letter, you can focus on the two to three skills you deem most important to the role, and demonstrate how they work in action through providing quantifiable outcomes or achievements that directly resulted from these skills. Providing measurable examples of how you’ve contributed to the success of the previous companies you’ve worked for not only provides evidence to help support your claims but further reinforces why you would be an asset to your potential employer. Some people can struggle with quantifying their skills or experiences, especially when working in an industry that has intangible KPIs, but examples don’t always have to be sales or numbers based. For example, you could say, ‘your strong leadership skills were demonstrated through leading weekly team meetings of 10 staff or more’ or, ‘managing the implementation of a new learning and development strategy led to a 10% reduction in retention rates from the previous year.’
The last section of your cover letter should include a call to action, outlining what you would like to happen next with the prospective employer before signing off. This can sometimes feel a bit awkward to write, and it’s important not to sound pushy or presumptuous, however clearly stating that you would like to talk to the hiring manager or recruiter further (ideally in an interview) and to be considered for the role, helps to reinforce your interest in the role in question and reminds them of the best way to contact you. To do this you can say something like:
Please see as attached my resume. As you can see by my skills and experience, I believe I would be a great fit for the advertised project management role and I’d love the opportunity to meet with you to discuss the role further. I can be reached at 0412 321 234 or email@example.com. Thank you for your time today and I look forward to hearing from you soon.
Finally, before sending your cover letter off, it’s essential that you carefully read over it to ensure you’ve hit the right tone and that your grammar and spelling is correct. Typos or spelling mistakes in a cover letter (i.e referencing the wrong organisation) suggest you haven’t invested much effort into the document and therefore don’t care enough about the role. It can also indicate that you don’t have great attention to detail and poor communication skills- again, two traits that are universally important for most jobs.
With regards to tone, you want to ensure your cover letter sounds professional, but is also succinct and doesn’t sound too desperate or self-deprecating e.g ‘I’d do anything to get this position’. To ensure your letter is succinct and to the point try and keep it to one page, ideally between 250 and 350 words. Giving yourself a strict word limit will help ensure you don’t waffle or include unnecessary information but rather stick to the most important points you want to convey to the hiring manager or recruiter. In regards to tone, this can be hard to discern with your own writing so you may need to ask someone to review a draft. Having someone look over your draft and provide you feedback is a good idea anyway, as a fresh pair of eyes can often pick up things you might have missed or hadn't considered, like typos, what information should be included or taken out or if you’ve successfully conveyed your relevant skills and experience.
Design & Build specialise in helping candidates with all stages of the recruitment process – from cover letters and resumes to final stage interviews and the initial onboarding in a new role. We look at multiple resumes and cover letters each day and know what organisations – especially within the built environment industry- are wanting from a candidate’s job application. If you’re having difficulty composing a cover letter or are wanting to seek advice on how to ‘cut through’ with your next job application overall, reach out to us today at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ready to find your next role? Start the search today!
 Kramer, Lindsay. (2021). How To Write A Cover Letter. Grammarly Blog. Retrieved from: https://www.grammarly.com/blog/write-cover-letter/?&utm_source=google&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=10827645806&utm_targetid=aud-879636884805:dsa-1233402314764&gclid=CjwKCAjwk6-LBhBZEiwAOUUDp1Q7Zc6LDMlPxAyWVxopNzt9fufrqR38SntQuXGe5cr26aqurbx24BoC99kQAvD_BwE&gclsrc=aw.ds
 Seek. (2020). Cover Letters: the Good and the Bad. Seek. Retrieved from: https://www.seek.com.au/career-advice/article/cover-letters-the-good-and-the-bad
 Gallo, Amy. (2020). How To Write A Cover Letter. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from: https://hbr.org/2014/02/how-to-write-a-cover-letter