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How to write a cover letter

Always include a cover letter when sending your CV out to employers. A good cover letter should make an employer interested enough to read your application thoroughly, and call you for an interview. Here are some tips to help you.

What information to include in your cover letter

Your cover letter should give an employer an idea of who you are, and explain what skills you could bring to the job.

You should also explain to an employer why you are interested in their business, and the particular role. Showing a genuine interest helps you stand out among other candidates, so it is important to tailor your cover letters so they relate specifically to each job application.

How do your skills and experience match the job?

A man sitting at a desk reading a document.
A good cover letter should link your skills to the employer's needs

To get an employer interested, you need to explain how your skills, attributes and achievements match the job vacancy.

You can include information from your work history, life experiences, any voluntary work you've done, and your education and training.

  • Explain why you are the best person for the company and how your skills will meet the company's needs. Link your experience, skills and qualifications to what the employer has asked for, and show that you meet the job requirements.
  • Use two or three key examples to show the employer you're suitable for the job, and will make an impact or get results in the role. 
  • Sell yourself – explain how you can contribute to the company. Focus on what you have to offer, rather than what you want.
  • Show your knowledge of the company and industry, and share recommendations you have for opportunities you've researched. For example: "With 10 years of retail management experience and a record of rapid advancement, I have found at least three ways to increase sales at your Wellington outlet. This could be achieved by..."

Why do you want this job?

  • Show how motivated and enthusiastic you are, and how you can fit into the organisation.
  • Discuss your personal qualities and why the position interests you. 
  • Include any personal interests or activities that unite you with the company and the work it does.
  • Comment on something positive about the company and let them know why you would want to work there. You could refer to the company's reputation, management philosophy, size, sales record, product quality, or other factors that impress you.

What your cover letter should look like

Your cover letter may be the first contact you have with a prospective employer, so it is important to make a good impression.

How to structure your cover letter

  • A typical cover letter should be no more than one page long. 
  • Address your letter to the relevant person, rather than starting with Dear Sir/Madam. If you are not sure who is reading your letter, call or email the contact person and ask who the letter should be addressed to.
  • It should start with a sentence about where you heard about the job (this helps the company in choosing how to advertise). If no specific opening has been advertised be sure to state what your job objective is.
  • End by saying you are available for an interview, and are also willing to provide further information.

How to word your cover letter

  • Be professional, warm and friendly.
  • Make the letter interesting to read, but short and to the point.
  • Be enthusiastic and assertive but not pushy. Do not beg for a position.
  • Use simple, natural language, avoiding cliches and expressions like 'aforementioned'.
  • Use positive words and phrases. For example, use sentences beginning with 'I have' or 'I can'. 
  • You can put your selling points in a bulleted list, or in a comparison list-style in which you directly compare your specific experiences and accomplishments with the company's stated needs. 
  • Don't use words that weaken your message or give the impression that you lack confidence – for example, 'fairly experienced' or 'some knowledge'.
  • Do not start every sentence or paragraph with I.

How to present your cover letter

  • Use clean, white, A4 sized paper.
  • Use a basic font such as Arial or Times New Roman.
  • Leave plenty of space around the edges of the page and clear space between each paragraph or section. 
  • Keep it neat. Don't send cover letters that are photocopied or marked.

How to make sure you send out the best cover letters you can

  • Write a rough draft first so that you can get your thoughts in order. 
  • Whoever reads your cover letter will consider it an example of your writing skills. Make sure there are no grammatical mistakes and that the spelling is perfect.
  • Always get another person to read your letter before sending it to an employer 
  • Keep copies of all letters sent – when you get an interview it is very useful to know what you have written. It also makes the next letter easier to write.