Job application tips: the four things you must include in a cover letter

Lydia Smith
Writer, Yahoo Finance UK
Don't stop at just sending the CV, you must include a cover letter too and it should highlight why you are a good fit for the job. Photo: Getty

When applying for a new job, many people prioritise making their CV look as sharp as possible – leaving their cover letter as an afterthought. While you want to make your resume as eye-catching as possible, however, the additional information you include in your covering email can be just as important.

As anyone who has ever written a cover letter can confirm, it’s not an easy process. It can be difficult to know exactly what information to include, how much is too much – and what the difference is between a letter and a resume.

“A CV lists your key skills and experience, whereas a cover letter highlights why you are interested in the role and why you are a good fit for the job,” explains Jo Cresswell, careers expert at the job and recruiting site Glassdoor.

“A CV is essential in almost any job application, while a cover letter is often seen as optional – though it’s highly recommended to create a cover letter for any role you’re applying to.”

Ideally, a cover letter will contain information additional to your CV. If you’ve covered all the key points in your resume, you can use your cover letter to add colour to your application, Cresswell says.

“In order to make your cover letter really stand out, consider including relevant, brief stories and anecdotes to make you more memorable to the employer,” she adds. “This way of writing shows you in action, which can help employers better visualise how you would fit into their company. In addition, when sharing your skills and experience, use numbers to illustrate how effective you were in your previous jobs.”

READ MORE: The most common mistakes people make on their CVs — and how to fix them

You should also use your cover letter as a chance to express enthusiasm for the job and the company, but don’t go overboard with flattery. It may also help to research beyond the job position advertised, to find out more about the business and any challenges they are facing, so you can outline what you would do to help address those.

When starting your cover letter, make sure your introduction is punchy. Instead of telling the employer how you found out about the job on offer, state what you do and how much experience you have. Remember, a good start is far more likely to keep an employer reading to the end.

It depends on what job you are applying for and what the company is like, but be wary of humour. It’s likely that you don’t know who is reading your cover letter – and well-intentioned humour can often fall flat, or come across badly. That being said, however, you don’t want your cover letter to be dull, so it’s important to strike the right balance.

So what five things should you definitely include?

“You want to keep your cover letter relatively short and sweet, aim for between half a page to a full page,” says Cresswell. You can add more detail than a CV, but being succinct is key.

READ MORE: When is the perfect time to update your CV and LinkedIn

Find out the name of who is hiring

One of the things to include in your cover letter is an address to the hiring manager, which you can personalise by using a specific name. It might not always be possible, but finding out the name of who will be reading your application can be a good idea – rather than the generic “to whom it may concern”.

Include the role

You should also include the specific role for which you’re applying, making sure it matches the job description, Cresswell says. Even if you’re applying for multiple jobs – which can be time-consuming or exhausting – sending a generic cover letter that isn’t tailored to each job can reduce your chances of success.

Outline why you are a strong candidate

The cover letter should include a brief description of why you’re a good fit for the role. “Be specific and think about the key words you want to highlight,” Cresswell says. Go through the job description and pick out the aspects that you are more suited to or have the most experience in.

Include examples

As well as including your most relevant experience and skills, you can add colour to how you may have recorded these experiences and skills on your CV. Your covering letter is a chance to go into further detail about your achievements and how they are applicable to the job on offer.

READ MORE: What are soft skills and why should you include them on your CV?