I know what you’re thinking, what is a cover letter and more importantly, how do I write a cover letter?

A lot of people think their CV is the most important part of a job application, but actually your cover letter is the first thing a potential employer will read.

And there are a lot of things you need to think about when writing a cover letter.

How to write a cover letter

Let’s start with the basics: what do I include in a cover letter?

I know it feels like we say it a lot, but do your research! You should write a new cover letter for every job you apply for, don’t just adapt it.

Make sure you research the company and the role you are applying for thoroughly so you can tailor your cover letter accordingly.

Your employer will know straight away if you haven’t done your research and may not even make it to your CV.

You need to know exactly what the company does, who their competitors are and their target audience. You also need to know what your role entails and what skills and attributes you need.

Of course, you can use this information when writing your CV as well.

And it goes without saying: spell check your letter – this means you should also get someone else to read it to check for errors too.

How to format a cover letter

Before you start to write your cover letter you need to make sure it is set out correctly with your name and address in the top right hand corner. The employer’s name and company address should be below and to the left, followed by the date.

Your cover letter should be clearly presented in a professional font with short paragraphs.

‘How long should a cover letter be?’ I hear you ask. Too long and you risk rambling and too short and you risk looking like you don’t care so aim for half an A4 page.

How to address a cover letter

Avoid saying ‘To whom it may concern’ at all costs as this makes you look lazy.

When you write a cover letter you should address it to the person dealing with applications. This should be on the job advert somewhere but if it isn’t then don’t be afraid to call up and ask.

And once you have their name, address them using their title and last name – Mrs Smith for example – just using a first name is too informal.

How to structure a cover letter

When writing a cover letter, start by stating why you are getting in touch, the exact job you are applying for and how you found out it. For example: ‘I am applying for the role of junior multimedia sports journalist at Sportsbeat after seeing the advert on Hold The Front Page.’

After this there are no set rules, but here is a suggested structure.

Then talk about why you are suitable for the job and what you can do for the company. But make sure you don’t just repeat your CV.

And at the end you should reiterate why you want the job and why they should hire you. Remember: enthusiasm is good but desperation is not!

Finally, sign off your cover letter with ‘Yours sincerely’ if you know the name of the person you are writing to or ‘Yours faithfully’ if you don’t.

If you’re still unsure, you can find lots of cover letter examples online.

And that’s it. You’ve just got to prepare for your job interview now…

All aspects of job preparation will be covered on our BA (Hons) Journalism degree.

Have you got any cover letter examples you’re especially proud of? Share your tips in the comments.

Featured image courtesy of Paul Inkles via Flickr, with thanks