Six tips for a cover letter that works

Last updated: 6 Dec 2023, 15:32

What you should, and should not, include in your cover letter for your graduate job.

Writing a cover letter on a laptop

Although a majority of applications now take place exclusively online, almost all applications will have a part where you enter a note, or statement to accompany your application. This, in effect, is the cover letter. At best, a cover letter can help a jobseeker stand out from the pack. At worst, it can make a promising candidate seem like an uncreative cut-and-paster. Sadly, the vast majority of cover letters read essentially the same: rethreads of CVs that ramble on while repeating the obvious. Would you read one of these to the end if it were put in front of you? Probably not, and neither will most recruiters.

Here are our top tips for writing a cover letter somebody will actually want to read.

1. Don’t try and summarise your CV

A lot of people write cover letters as if they were paragraph-form CV’s. Fact is, your cover letter or note will be attached to the rest of your application, so use your cover letter to show personality, curiosity, and an interest in the field you are applying to work in. Also, search around for the history of your field or company and sprinkle some observations or insights into your cover letter (or even use one as a lead). If I was applying for a job in tech, I might talk about how thrilling it was to see a particular technology event transform technology before my eyes, and how thrilled I would be to be a part of this transformation. The same could apply for any sector. Use your initiative to show expertise, genuine interest and your own personality.

2. Keep it short

Less. Is. More. Three paragraphs, tops. Half a page, tops. Skip lengthy statements and keep it snappy, engaging and interesting.

3. Know your contact

Sometimes, you don’t know exactly who you should be addressing your letter to. Avoid the generic and bland “Dear Recruiter” or “To Whom It May Concern.” If you absolutely don’t know who you should be addressing, then you haven’t done your research. You will likely easily find the name of the recruiter via your correspondence or via LinkedIn. If you can’t, don’t be afraid to ask the organisation. It shows initiative.

4. Send it as a PDF

If you have to attach your application to an email, use a PDF. Not every recipient can read .docx files, but virtually everybody can open a PDF file without any conversion. File conversions are bad for two huge reasons. First, they are just as likely to not bother and move onto the next applicant. And, second, conversions can introduce formatting errors.

5. Avoid the following phrase

“My name is ___, and I am applying for the position of ____”.They already know this, and you’ll sound inexperienced. Visit the career advice section of for more practical tips.

6. Close strongly

Finish off by briefly explaining how your experience and enthusiasm will help you at the job. That’s key, be yourself. And it can be done in one to two sentences.

gradireland editorial advice

This describes editorially independent and impartial content, which has been written and edited by the gradireland content team. Any external contributors featuring in the article are in line with our non-advertorial policy, by which we mean that we do not promote one organisation over another.

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