Although many applications are now submitted electronically, the format presented below is the traditional way a business letter is structured. If you create a letter of this format, you can't go wrong.
- Name & contact details applicant
- Name & contact details organisation
- Beginning: "Dear ...."
- Can you do the job?
- Do you want to do the job?
- Do you fit into the culture?
- Signature / type your name
The beginning: 'Dear ...'
It is always preferable to have the name of the person receiving your application, including their title (such as Ms, Mr or Dr). Contact the organisation if you're not sure who to address the letter to. If you can't find out a name, "Dear Sir / Madam" is acceptable.
The introduction can be one or a few sentences stating the reason why you are contacting the employer. Mention where you have found the job advertised, including a reference number if given.
Body of the cover letter
The most important sections of the cover letter should address the three main questions in any application procedure:
Can you do the job?
In answering this first question, it is important to communicate your main academic qualification(s), and your key skills and experiences tailored to the position. You need to state how your skills and experiences will contribute to the organisation's functioning.
If you're unsure about the responsibilities and skills required for the role you're applying for, consider contacting the employer to ask for more information. Contacting the employer is always good practice because the recruiter might emphasise information that you can use to strengthen your application.
If you decide to contact the employer, make sure that you are prepared, particularly if you decide to phone: the employer may ask you some questions, too! This is your chance to make a positive first impression, which may support your application.
Do you want to do the job?
You can only show your interest and enthusiasm for the position and organisation if you have done your research. To get started, ask yourself some questions to get started:
- What does the organisation do?
- What is mission statement and what are its values?
- What does the position entail?
- What are major developments in your chosen industry?
- How has the organisation contributed to these developments?
- How does the organisation compare to others in the industry?
- Who are the key players in your industry and organisation?
- Where does the position fit into the organisation?
- Why are they hiring someone for the position?
Do you fit into the culture?
The employer will want to know about your personality and will look for an indication of what it is like to work with you. Some of this information may be better communicated at interview where your interaction with the employer provides a sense of your 'fit'.
You are able to provide information in your written application, however. For example, you might express how your values align with the organisation's and how you would like to contribute to the organisation's mission. Another example of how you can show your personality is through writing about your extracurricular interests. Make sure, however, that what you include is relevant and tailored.
In a concluding paragraph, you can reiterate your suitability for the position. Most resumes include a sentence indicating that you have attached your resume. Thank the reader for their consideration.
- You have total control over what you express in your cover letter
- Your cover letter should provide a big-picture view of your alignment with the position and organisation
- Tailor your cover letter to each individual position you apply for
- Your application is your marketing tool; your sales-pitch to potential employers, so make sure it showcases 'you' in the best way
Remember to not copy-paste elements of the sample cover letter on the next page as employers recognise a sample and want to read information about you in your own words.