As online application forms become more prevalent, fewer graduate employers now ask candidates for a good old-fashioned cover letter. But many still do, and there's no excuse for getting it wrong. Your cover letter is an important part of the application process because it's your chance to introduce yourself to a potential employer and convince them that you're the right person for the job. And this is how you do it, in ten easy steps...
1. Research and preparation
Make sure you have a clear understanding of what the job entails and what the recruiters are looking for before you start writing. Research the role and the company online, and check whether it's holding any events at your university. If clear details of the job aren't provided, call the HR team to find out more.
2. Formal format
In most cases you'll send your cover letter by email rather than by post. There's some debate about whether it's now acceptable to write your cover letter in the body of an email, rather than as a formal business letter. But, to play it safe, The Gateway recommends sticking to tradition, particularly if you're applying to a City firm. Write your cover letter in Microsoft Word using a formal template and then attach it to an email. Recruiters will receive hundreds of applications, so remember to name the document something sensible. We recommend the Name_Role_Cover letter.doc format.
3. Structure clearly
Try to find out the name of the person who will look at your application and address your letter to them. If you can't find out who this is, address it to the head of the department you're applying to. In the first sentence you should introduce yourself and say what position you are applying for. Next, explain what interests you about the job and the firm. Then, outline why you are right for the role, using examples to back up your statements. Finally, summarise your key points and end the letter positively. Tell them how you look forward to hearing from them, or perhaps that you look forward to discussing the role at interview.
4. Less is more
Don't waffle. Your cover letter should be clear and concise, and never longer than one side of A4. If it's too long, recruiters will lose interest and all your hard work will be bound for the bin.
5. Don't rehash your CV
If someone is taking the time to read your cover letter, it's because they liked what they saw on your CV. So don't just repeat the same information - tell them more and convey your enthusiasm for the job in a professional manner. Make a checklist of everything the role requires and be sure to address every point in your cover letter.
6. Tailor to the firm
Your cover letter shouldn't be a catch-all blurb that has done the rounds of all the firms in your chosen sector. Show you've done your research by explaining why you'd like to work for that company in particular. Don't regurgitate something from its website, but mention an interesting deal you read about in the news or an employee you spoke to at a company presentation.
7. Ask not what they can do for you...
Yes, you're trying to sell yourself to an employer, but it's important to strike a balance. Be careful not to overstate your brilliance or come across as egotistical by starting every sentence with "I." And remember, employers are more interested in what you will bring to role and firm, than in what you'll gain from getting the job.
8. Avoid technical jargon
Don't fall into the trap of using complex language and technical terms you don't understand - it won't impress recruiters. Explain your interest in the industry by using simple language and use your experience of doing an internship, reading an interesting article, or speaking to employees at a company presentation rather than showing off your ability to use jargon.
9. Copy and paste at your peril
Writing a cover letter from scratch for every application sounds time consuming, but it really is the best way. The Gateway has heard countless stories of cover letters that refer to the wrong firm or are littered with typos and inaccuracies when paragraphs are pasted together from here and there. It may seem like an easy option, but beware of the hazards.
10. Check spelling and grammar
As with your CV, triple-check your cover letter. Spelling errors and grammatical mistakes look unprofessional, lazy and careless - and they give recruiters a good reason to discard your cover letter, especially if you're applying for a position in which attention to detail and written communication are important.
Photo: Darwin Bell (https://www.flickr.com/photos/darwinbell/)