Cover Letters: Four Non-Negotiables to Live By


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There are so many hurdles to jump before landing a job. School, university, work experience, volunteering – and even with a packed CV and a wealth of coveted ‘real-life-experience’ your application can still fall flat at the hands of one thing: your cover letter.

The Guardian say that “covering letters are your first sales pitch to a potential employer” – and it’s important to keep this at the front of your mind when applying for a job. It’s all too easy to see the cover letter as an ‘annoying’ last step – why bother with it when all an employer needs to know is in your CV? Unfortunately, it’s absolutely the wrong attitude – and can cost potential candidates the chance to interview.

The cover letter is a powerful thing – and we need to learn how to harness it for the very best results.


Understanding the fine line between formal/informal language

It’s hard to strike the balance between being personable, and not cocky, when pitching the tone of your cover letter. When writing, The Balance says “it’s important to convey how your character, interests, motivations, knowledge, skills and experiences equip you to excel in the job.” With that in mind, you don’t want to create a staid, carbon-copy cover letter that’s dripping with formality if you’re applying for a social media role that requires you to be engaging and in-tune with the brand’s millennial audience. The cover letter is an excellent tool to bolster your application and should be used as a pre-interview trial. If an employer wants a young and carefree tone of voice, show them your capability to deliver that in your cover letter.

Moreover, it’s important to read the job description and person specification carefully to judge your approach – what may be suitable for one position may not translate to another. If you’re applying for a corporate banking position, the tone of voice will be different to a customer-facing role. It’s up to you to judge your tone based on these points, and then utilise your cover letter to its full potential – you may only get one shot at the job opening, so you need to make an impression when you have the chance.


Forgetting to have fun

This goes hand-in-hand with our previous point. It’s easy to get swept up in the formality and professional nature of job applications, and forget to have fun and express your personality in your cover letter. According to Total Jobs, “employers will decide if you’re suitable or not in a matter of seconds” – so it’s important to make an impression immediately.

Remember that, although your CV can chronicle your academic and career progression, you are still a human beneath it all. A big part of success in the workplace comes from a candidate’s personality – so try not to get too bogged-down with a professional pretence. The Guardian reminds us to “make sure that your letter sounds like you, not like something out of a book.” So, let your personality shine through the letter – it’ll help your character stand out amongst other applications.


Considering the spectrum of applications

Employers and recruiters receive hundreds of applications a day. warn that “sending out a generic letter for all applications rarely yields positive results and recruiters can spot your lack of time and effort from a mile away.” Don’t fall into this trap. Admittedly, it will take a little longer, as you can’t batch-apply by altering the ‘Dear…’ heading of your letter, but the results will be worth it.

No two job descriptions are exactly the same, and each company will be looking for something specific to them, so you need to consider this in your letter. Take the time to edit your basic structure to include specific references to the employer’s requirements – this will not only show your skill-match to the role, but your attention to detail.


Including inaccuracies, and neglecting to proofread

Finally, we reach the hurdle that most fall at: forgetting to proofread. A quick scan isn’t enough – make sure you check every word and read your letter fully before sending. Double-check personal information, like employee titles and how the company spells their name – it sounds obvious, but it’s all too easy to leave in someone else’s name when sending out multiple cover letters. You should try to avoid this, as it can appear to “tip off that you are mass producing your documents and [may] lack attention to detail.”

In The Balance’s list of ‘15 Things Not To Include in Your Cover Letter’, spelling and grammar mistakes are listed first. They stress that “even a minor typo or error can knock you out of contention for the job” – so don’t let this ruin your chances.  


And finally…

Competition will always be tough for jobs, and it’s up to you to be noticed amongst the crowds. Ensure your cover letter is the best representation of you by considering the points above, and give yourself the very best chance of landing that interview.



Lucy Farrington-Smith writes graduate careers advice for Inspiring Interns, a graduate recruitment agency specialising in matching candidates to their dream job or internship. Click here to browse their London-based graduate jobs, and here for their graduate jobs Manchester page.



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