How to write the perfect cover letter

A good cover letter can differentiate your resume from the countless others that pass across employer's desks. Make sure yours stands out.

When responding to an advertised job posting, whether via letter, email or fax, you should always include a covering letter with your resume. Treat it as a vital part of your personal marketing literature, which merits attention and consideration. A cover letter introduces you and your resume, and is your first chance to make a good impression on your potential employer. Aim to make it entice the reader to take those few extra minutes to consider you against other applicants. Your resume should not be sent without one!While we cannot give you a prescriptive formula for writing a covering letter, as they should be personalized not standard documents, following some basic guidelines should help ensure you receive a positive response from your initial contact.

1. Appearance and layout

Handwritten or typed cover letters can be equally acceptable and opinion is still divided on this issue. Increasingly however, recruiters are asking that applicants email their details, leaving the handwritten posted option a non-starter. Whatever the method of your application, ensure your letter is neatly and clearly presented on paper of a similar size and quality to your resume. Check and check again for grammatical and spelling errors. Handwriting should be neat and legible. Emails should be written in a common font with standard formatting. They should emulate a handwritten letter in terms of style.

Your letter should address the relevant contact, the name of whom will often appear in the job advert. Avoid Sir or Madam if possible. Unlike a resume, it is acceptable to write a cover letter in the first person.

2. Content

The content of your cover letter should be brief and structured, avoiding lengthy repetition of information covered in your resume. First, clarify your approach. If you are replying to an advert, say so. Mention the job title, any reference number and where and when you saw it.

In some cases an advert will indicate that a more substantial letter is required. Always follow a specific instruction and include any information if it is particularly requested, for example, current salary.

Briefly outline your current situation and why you are seeking change. Include your current or last job, qualifications and professional and academic training, tailoring your information to make it as relevant as possible to the organization or job applied for. Tell the potential employer a little about themselves to demonstrate you have properly read the advert and that you have done some research into the organization. State why you are interested in them as an employer.

You need to succinctly emphasize why an employer may want to meet and employ you. Highlight your transferable skills, achievements and versatility; what you can contribute; and what makes you different. Mention personality traits relevant to the role applied for, taking care not to appear too subjective. Ensure the letter flows freely however, and does not slavishly match every point on the job description. The reader should be left with an overall impression that you are a potentially valuable addition to the workforce.

Negative information of any sort should be avoided in your cover letter as well as resume.

Close your letter with a polite expression of interest in further dialogue with the recruiter. Do mention that you would like the opportunity to discuss your suitability further at an interview and that you await a response in due course.