A great cover letter should show enthusiasm and explain at a glance what you can bring to a role and the organisation. It should include your understanding and knowledge of the company and the skills that you have gained to be successful within the advertised position, along with the “why?” criteria.
There are many different ways to write a cover letter, depending on your individual circumstances. These could include:
• Graduate/first job – is your degree relevant to the specific role? If not, you can still include work/study/undertaken, or research (for example, your dissertation) that may comply with your job = transferrable skills. Pick a couple of points and expand on these. Remember to include any internships/placements/voluntary work/extra-curricular activities relevant to the role. Show ambition and your immediate availability to start work.
• First job/school leaver – highlight your motivation and passion for the role. Talk about your experiences at school, and mention the subjects you studied that will have the most impact on your application. Mention any hobbies/extra-curricular activities that may be relevant.
• Unemployed – don’t be ashamed of unemployment, mention your work experience in an esteemed light, as you have done in the CV. This could be voluntary skills that you have undertaken, or a new skill you have learned since your last paid job. If you haven’t achieved this, think of any hobbies, social activities or qualifications you have undertaken that could be transferred into this specific role. Turn your period of unemployment into a positive experience – it can give you time to reassess your options and think of what direction you want your career to go in.
• Change of career – if you are applying for jobs in a completely different area, where you have no or little experience history in this particular field, you will need a strong cover letter to sell your strengths and skills. Think back to your education, was there a specific element that would be relevant with this change? Be upfront about your career change, but don’t bad mouth your previous companies, this shows unprofessionalism.
• Career breaks – this could be a parent/carer returning to work, traveller or someone pursuing a personal or voluntary project. Whatever the reason, you can highlight your transferable skills for each specific role. For example, if you were raising a family you could emphasise your organisational and budgeting skills. If travelling, you could talk about your communication skills by meeting a diverse range of people. Working on a project would mean you gained skills in time management and planning. If you are moving back into a similar industry, mention your enthusiasm for the sector, and why you want to return to it. If you are targeting a different path, mention why you are ready for a new challenge.
• Promotion/senior role – this should be one of the easiest letters to write. Not necessarily! There could be a lot of other candidates with the same skills as you, particularly if you are targeting an internal position, and others are well-known in the company. So you need to talk about specific achievements in terms of statistics. Explain what you have achieved most recently, and why you feel you are ready to take the next step to a higher level. Use your letter to highlight how long you have been in your current role, along with the skills and experience you have acquired.
And as with all job applications, take time to research the company and tailor your letter accordingly.