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.

Do your skills and experience match the job requirements?

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 those needed in the job vacancy.

You can use information about your work history, including voluntary work, life experience, education and training and, if relevant, personal activities.

  • 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 demonstrate your suitability for the job. 
  • Promote yourself – explain how you can contribute to the company. Focus on what you have to offer, rather than what you want.
  • Research the company and show your knowledge by sharing any recommendations you have. 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."

Why do you want this job?

Ways to demonstrate your interest in the job could include:

  • showing how motivated and enthusiastic you are, and how you can fit into the organisation
  • discussing your personal qualities and why the position interests you
  • mentioning any personal interests or activities that are relevant to the company and the work it does
  • commenting on something positive about the company and letting them know why you would want to work there. For example, you could refer to the company's reputation, management philosophy, 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. If your cover letter makes a poor impression, your CV may not be read.

How to structure your cover letter

  • Cover letters are usually 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 to address your letter to, contact the employer and ask.
  • Your letter should start by stating where you heard about the job. This directly relates your application to a position they have advertised. If no specific opening has been advertised be sure to state what your job objective is.
  • End by saying you look forward to an interview, and that you are 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. Do not repeat everything you say in your CV.
  • Be enthusiastic and assertive but not pushy. Do not beg for a position.
  • Use simple, natural language, avoiding clichés and expressions like "aforementioned".
  • Use positive words and phrases such as "I have" or "I can". 
  • You can put your key 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 and keep it neat. Don't send cover letters that are photocopied or marked.
  • Use an easily read font (or tidy handwriting if you are asked to supply a handwritten letter). Examples include Calibri, Georgia, Helvetica, Arial and Times New Roman.
  • Leave plenty of space around the edges of the page and clear space between each paragraph or section. 

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

  • Write a rough draft first so you can get your thoughts in order. 
  • Remember that 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.

Updated 13 Jun 2016