How to write a modern cover letter | 7 rules
So, how do you write a modern cover letter? More often than not in most industries, when applying for a job you’ll be asked to send in a cover letter. These should be tailored to each position you apply for – you shouldn’t (as a rule) send the exact same letter to each and every hiring manager.
The cover letter is a place for you to sell you skills – all the things you cannot cover in your resume. It’s also a chance for you to “tell a story” and to connect with the person in HR who will put you forward for the job. The cover letter is your chance to really shine. But how do you write an effective cover letter and how have they changed?
#1: Length of a modern cover letter
How long should a cover letter be? Well, the jury’s still out! According to the Victorian Government, “A cover letter shouldn’t be more than one page. It’s only meant to be a summary of the information you put in your resume, so remember to keep things short.” However, not everyone agrees.
In some cases a longer cover letter may be appropriate. “When the letter escorts a resume, it should be one page in length, with one to six paragraphs,” agrees Cover Letters For Dummies. “When your letter substitutes for a resume, two to three pages is the max,” they say.
#2: A few notes on format
Stick to the basics for your cover letter, in most cases – unless you’re going for a job in a creative field such as graphic design. In most cases a basic Word cover letter is best, or consider PDFing the information if you have lots to contain. “Cover letters do not have to be boring and bland,” explains Cleverism.com. “They can be exciting and moving as well. We want your cover letter to shine and reflect your personality, making you stand out from the crowd.
“It always looks more professional to send as PDF,” says a top-rated respondent on Yahoo answers, “especially as these days there are different versions of Office on the market and using PDF ensures everyone can open and, it is not editable.” However, another point raised is that it’s important to follow any instructions in the job ad.
#3: How to write a great introduction
Telling a story that’s not apparent by simply looking at your resume could be a good technique. Pay attention to the first 2 or 3 sentences especially, as these will need to capture the reader’s attention.
Forbes says, “As humans, we love stories far more than we love data sheets. So, what’s your story? What brings you to this company?” Spend a little time thinking not just about “who” you are – but your “why”. Why is it that you have come to apply for the job and what’s next on your agenda? Don’t be “too creative” or left-of-centre, but make sure you’re engaging and direct. Open Colleges has a great guide on cover letters, as well as resume writing tips and more.
#4: Make sure you include:
Apart from accurate contact details and relevant information there is one other thing you must research and put some thought into. That’s why you want to work there.
Abby Kohut, president and staffing consultant at Staffing Symphony, says, “Make sure that you really mean what you say,” she said. “Recruiters have a way of sensing when you are being less than truthful. Our goal is to hire people who sincerely want to work at our company — it’s the job of your cover letter to convince us.” Tell a great story and make a convincing argument and you may find yourself at the head of the pack.
#5: Make sure you don’t include these things in a modern cover letter
So what are some of the “don’ts” you should be aware of? Here’s a quick check-list.
- Naming the skills you’re missing
- Getting the company name wrong
- Lying about experience you have
- Badmouthing past jobs or managers
- Underselling yourself
- Attaching a photo (although some experts differ on this in the digital age)
- Read the full list of what not to do on your cover letter in this great Business Insider article
#6: Things to check and double check
Contemporary Verse says, “Do a good proofread of the work you would like to submit for publication. Check for typos, misspelled or wrong words. If you don’t trust yourself to get it right, give it to someone else to look over. It is truly amazing what a computer spell check will miss.”
Often when we write something ourselves, our eyes “see” what we think is there, or what we mean, rather than what is really on the page. Ask a friend or trusted mentor to check it over for you, or even consider using an online proofreading service – but check testimonials as some of these sites can be unreliable.
#7: Some final tips for submitting your cover letter
- Make sure that your name, email and phone number appears on each page of the cover letter
- Include a brief bio written in the third person
- Be patient. Don’t expect a response right away
- Make sure the attachments you send are in the correct file format. PDF or Word is most standard
- Include your current address and phone number (double check!)