Here's what you should put in a cover letter.
Whatever work you normally do, you become a salesperson when you start job-hunting – and your product is yourself. Think of your cover letter as the glossy brochure you can use to promote yourself to prospective employers. But before you start writing, you have to know what to include in a cover letter to make it stand out from all the others.
A great opener
According to Glassdoor, recruiters and hiring managers spend an average of six seconds perusing each CV. That means you need to have something in the first paragraph of your cover letter that will grab a reader's attention and get him interested enough to read the rest. Your opening paragraph may be the only part of the cover letter that the hiring manager ever reads, so it should be a knockout.
The opening paragraph is a great place to use your elevator pitch. Your pitch should provide a brief summary of who you are, what you do and why the other person should care. Keep in mind that the first person to read your cover letter will likely be a human resources employee rather than someone in your own field, so industry-specific words and acronyms may fly right over his head.
For example, let's say you are a website developer with top-notch coding skills. While you're no doubt proud of your technical expertise, throwing a bunch of programming jargon into your opener will just make a hiring manager's eyes glaze over. Instead, consider saying something like 'I'm a website developer who provides companies with cutting-edge, award-winning websites that customers love'. Now that's a pitch that might make even the most non-technical hiring manager sit up and take notice.
(Professional-looking) contact information
Your CV and cover letter should both include your phone number and email address at least, but consider adding links to your social media accounts as well, especially if you have a LinkedIn account. Beware though, because some kinds of contact information can hurt you instead of help you. For example, having the email address email@example.com might give you and your friends a giggle, but it probably won't impress a hiring manager. Also, don't include a link to your Facebook profile if there's anything on your account that you wouldn't want your future boss to see.
If your email address is even faintly dubious, set up a new, professional-sounding one to put in your cover letter and CV. Using your first name and last name or your first initial and last name for the first part of the email address will give it a professional tone.
If you're employed, don't use your work email address or phone number on your cover letter – that's an excellent way to lose your current job before you're ready to change employers. Even if your boss knows about your job hunt, she won't be thrilled about your using company resources to do it. And if you think she won't find out, think again – many companies quietly monitor employee emails and phone calls.
Details from the job advert
When you apply for any job, you want to make it as easy as possible for the hiring manager to see that you're a fit for the position. One great way to do so is to parrot the requirements from the advert in your cover letter, then describe how you meet those requirements.
Pick at least three or four requirements and lay them out in bullet points; that will draw the hiring manager's eyes over to them during his initial quick skim of your cover letter. Each bullet point can consist of one requirement and a brief but specific description of how you meet it. For example, if the advert calls for management experience, you might say something like 'Management experience: I currently supervise a team of 14 widget-sorters'. Use actual numbers whenever possible; they make a much bigger impact than general statements.
The exact job title from the advert is also a wise choice to include in a cover letter, preferably in the first paragraph. The hiring manager reading your letter may be dealing with dozens of different job openings, so using a job title he'll recognise right away will make it easy for him to classify your application correctly.
Now that you know what to put in a cover letter, it's time to fire up your favourite word processing program and start writing. Once you've written one really good letter, you can use it as a template for others – but you still need to take the time to customise each and every cover letter you write. A generic-sounding letter – or worse, one that includes bits of information from a previous job application – will get binned. One that clearly shows the recruiter both your excellent qualifications and your professionalism, however, can move you up to the next stage of the hiring process.
See where your CV stands with a free CV critique.