A Cover Letter is More Important Than a CV

A cover letter is a brief letter that introduces a CV.  It gives an indication why an applicant is a good match for a vacancy.  All CV's sent, whether by post or email, should be accompanied by a cover letter.  Some employers aren’t too bothered about cover letters. However, a lot of recruiters will ignore a CV without a cover letter.


In other words, including a cover letter WON'T harm your job application.  Not including one CAN harm it.


An employer could have many jobs advertised and a CV on its own won’t tell the employer which job you’re applying for. 


An employer will also want to know where you saw the job advert.  Bear in mind the same job could be advertised through different avenues.  The employer can identify and analyse trends on where suitable/unsuitable applicants are seeing the job adverts.


The cover letter also demonstrates your writing style.  Your CV is more to the point whilst the cover letter is you speaking to the employer (metaphorically).  Besides, it's accepted business etiquette to send a cover letter with a CV.


The cover letter is the first document an employer sees, even before the CV.  In this sense, it is more important than the CV and sets the tone for your application. 


Different Types and Formats of a Cover Letter

One format of a cover letter is a hard copy version.  About 15 years ago this would have been the most common type of cover letter.  The increased use of internet has reduced its use as more CVs started to get emailed.


This leads to the next format, an email version of it.  This is the most common type of letter.  Most of the content between a hard copy and email cover letter would be similar.  The main differences between them relate to one being a physical letter whilst the other is a business email.  


A growing trend is sending a video cover letter.  Essentially this is a short video you make introducing yourself and promoting yourself to a recruiter.  A company usually asks for this type of cover letter when they want to see more of your personality.  Some people send this whether the job advert asked for it or not.  It's a good way to showcase your personality and be different.


Different Types

There are 3 different types of cover letter.  The type relates to the purpose of the letter.

  • Speculative - there is no advertised vacancy.  You're contacting to enquire about any potential vacancy.
  • Targeted - this is about sending a cover letter in response to an actual job advert
  • Recommendation/Referral - as the name suggests this letter is based on a referral.  One of your professional contacts recommends you contact someone they know.  The contact is made whether there is a job, or for a networking opportunity.

This web page is mainly about targeted cover letters.  This is the most common type of cover letter. 

What Makes a Good Cover Letter?

To understand what makes a good cover letter, think about the following analogy.  Imagine you're interested in a product, say double glazing windows.  You ring a company and they send you a nice glossy brochure.  The brochure is not likely to be personally addressed to you as they get printed in bulk.  It will include a short cover note instead. 

A good cover note is likely to be:

·        personally addressed to you

·        on letter headed paper

·        short and to the point

·        thanking you for your interest

·        gently encouraging you to explore the brochure

·        professional and free of errors

·        explaining why the company/product is good and stands out

·        leaving contact details if you needed more information

This is not an exhaustive list.  The company goes to the extra effort of sending the cover note as a courtesy.  Sending a brochure without a cover note won't be the end of the world.  But it isn't a personalised effort and makes a potential customer feel like a number. 


Cover letters you send out are a cover note for your brochure (CV).  So the good ones are professional, personalised and a mini sales pitch for you.  Their purpose is to introduce you positively.  You don't get a second chance to make a good first impression.


The letter has to influence the reader to delve into the CV with a view to inviting you to an interview.  But it can't directly say so or plead for an interview. 




How to Write a Good Cover Letter

There are 5 parts to writing a good cover letter. 

·        Research the company

·        Write down what you like about the company

·        Write down why they will like you/why you are a good fit

·        Put it all together

·        Then edit until perfect


We'll go into each part in more detail below.


When starting the letter always start with the mentality that its aim is to meet the employer’s needs.  You are the solution to their problem.  Thoroughly research the company. Look on their social media accounts and website.  Sites such as Glassdoor also give you information about a company.


Find out the mission statement/values and any latest news about the company.  Time researching is never wasted as it will also come in useful when you are at the interview stage.

Understand how you fit into the big picture for the company. Understand the benefits you bring them. It's all about how you sell those benefits. Good selling is not about manipulating people into buying things they don't need. It's about thoroughly understanding a prospect's needs. Then channelling an interaction towards suitable products or services that meet those needs.

Write Down What You Like About the Company

After doing the research you should be familiar with the company.  Other points to consider are:

Are you a fan of their products or services? 

Are they on the verge of a technological breakthrough?

Is it a company constantly in the public eye? 

Is it run by someone constantly in the public eye?  

Are you a shareholder so have a commercial interest in the company? 


Whatever the reason it's important you can answer this question.


Don’t worry about it being perfect at this stage.  Editing will be later.  Write down a few versions of what you want to say if you can’t decide.  Get the words down.  Write whatever comes to mind.  Make sure there is enough detail.  Extra words will be eliminated later.


Answer Why The Company Will Want You/Why You Are a Good Fit?

This is a delicate balance between selling yourself but not bragging or exaggerating.   A company usually hires a particular person for their skill, experience or attitude.  Having all three can make you seem a potential superstar. 


You can measure skill and experience, but not attitude.  It's more difficult to show passion on paper than in person.  Every candidate will say they want the job but not many can show genuine enthusiasm and passion.  


If it is a company or role you're genuinely passionate about then you can say so.  But be willing to show a matching energy at a job interview. 


If your application shows obvious knowledge of the industry/company/role then that is evidence of enthusiasm.  If your hobbies relate to the role, you can include them.  After all, if you spend your spare time on something relating to a role it is evidence of enthusiasm too.

In addition, have you got a skill that is in demand?  Any unique experience that you bring to the role.  Any research you've been a part of?  All these points are worth considering for inclusion.  Again write anything that comes to mind, don’t worry about it being perfect at this stage. 


Be wary of using negative language i.e. implying no-one is giving you a job.   This can be read you are only applying through necessity rather than a genuine interest in the company.  

Put It all Together

Combine the information and answers you have so far into the initial draft of the letter.  Write down a few versions of what you want to say if you can’t decide.  Make sure there is enough detail to answer the questions above. 


The main purpose here is to establish the core of the letter.


The core is made up of:

Salutation - the greeting such as "Dear Mr Smith".  If you don't have a named contact then "Dear Sir/Madam" will suffice.  You could always show initiative and try to find out the recruiter's name.


Opening paragraph - This outlines the job applied for and where it was seen advertised.

Something like “I am writing in response to your advert in the Guardian (March

11th) asking for a Building Surveyor.”  You should include any job reference numbers.  This

makes it easier for an employer/recruitment agency with many jobs advertised.


Second Paragraph - Use this paragraph to outline how you meet the key skills/qualities needed for the job.  Explain why are you suitable for the job.  You can also mention any relevant qualifications here.  You can include things that are difficult to put in a CV such as emphasising you live near the work location.


Third Paragraph - Emphasise what can you do for the company.  Answer the question what’s in it for the employer?  If relevant to the position outline your career goal. 


Last paragraph - thank the employer for the time spent viewing the application.  Many applicants state “I look forward to hearing from you soon”.  This implies work for an employer as it puts the onus on them.  A more creative way to say this may be “I will contact you to discuss my application further”.  This section may also include thanking the recruiter for reading the application.


Closing - The final part includes the complimentary close (yours sincerely).  Avoid using “Yours faithfully” as this close means you don’t know the name of the recruiter.



A lot of time will be spent on the editing.  The letter has to go from draft to perfect.  This part starts with reading everything you have so far aloud.  Reading aloud helps be aware of mistakes and the flow of the letter.  Ask if all the sentences make sense.  Are they clear?


Cut any fluff (extra words).  Remember the letter has to be 1-page at the most.  As mentioned earlier the cover letter needs to increase your credibility.  Including a silly mistake will destroy it.  Go over the do’s and don'ts below.


Be thorough and ruthless to get the draft looking more towards perfect.  There are 3 technologies you need to use to help with this.  First use spell checker to eliminate basic errors.  Spell check isn't perfect so next use a grammar checker. 

Grammarly is a good option for this. You can sign up for the free option or the monthly subscription if you'll use it more frequently. 


The third technology is the Hemingway website. The idea behind this site is that it will point out long sentences and complex words.  It helps to make your writing more powerful.  After you're done with these give the letter a final check. 

Cover Letter Do's and Don'ts

Here are some do's and don'ts to think about when creating a cover letter.

Cover Letter Do's

  • Do personalise every cover letter you send.  No 2 companies are the same.  Address the person and the company you are writing to by name.  Write a new cover letter for each job you apply for and customize the content accordingly
  • Do keep your audience in mind.  Put yourself in the recruiter's shoes and ask what content they would like to see.  Focus on how your skills can help the company.
  • Do take the time to find out key information such as the hiring manager's name, job reference numbers and the position you're applying for
  • Do use the appropriate greeting (salutation)
  • Do maintain a professional and enthusiastic tone
  • Do keep it short and to the point.  Keep it to one page and about 250 words max.  Make sure there is no fluff
  • Do answer the question why should the employer interview you?
  • Do proofread (typos and grammatical mistakes are the biggest mistakes on application - especially company and people names)! if spelling and grammar's not your strong point, get some help with this
  • Do ask someone you trust to proofread your cover letter.  A lot of people skip this but when we've worked on something we have a tendency to easily miss mistakes. 
  • Do be a perfectionist
  • Do promise to follow up and make sure you do it. If you say you will contact them on Wednesday, contact them on Wednesday

Cover Letter Don'ts

  • Don’t make reading your letter hard work – see cover letter presentation
  • Don't go beyond one page.  In most cases four paragraphs are more than enough
  • Don't just repeat what's in your CV.  Briefly outline why you would be a good fit for the company without exaggerating
  • Don't talk about previous employers in a bad light
  • Don’t assume spell check will catch every spelling and grammar mistake
  • Don't be negative i.e. no-one is hiring me
  • Don't send a generic cover letter to everyone. If your application looks generic, it's not likely to go further.  Tailor your cover letter each time including the recipient's name and company name.  It's worth the effort
  • Don't undersell yourself.  While you don't want to brag, don't under-represent your strengths either.  It's the whole purpose of the cover letter
  • Don't talk about your weaknesses
  • Don't end passively.  "I'll look forward to hearing from you" does not count as a statement of action.  Tell the recruiter when you will call, write, or e-mail to follow up

Most people won't follow all the do's and don'ts above.  By following them all it will give you a competitive advantage.

Test Your Cover Letter

Before you send the letter out it's important to give it a final round of testing.  By now it's been through spell check, Grammarly and Hemingwayapp. So what's left?


After printing from a good quality printer the hard copy version of the letter should be ready.  However with the email version you want to make sure it's "readable".  Whilst the email cover letter looks fine on YOUR computer, it might not look fine on OTHER computers. 


Technical or compatibility issues are the final hurdle to clear.  You will NOT be sending the cover letter as an attachment.  So you don't have to worry about file types.  You want to make sure the letter opens in different browsers/operating systems, the same way as on your PC.  You also don't know which device the employer may use to open the email.  Also consider that it's not as easy to read from a screen than it is from a hard copy. 


To make sure your cover letter is as easy to read as possible try the following:


Format the email in plain text.  That way it can be viewed by any reader. 

Email your cover letter to a secondary email that you can open on your own phone.

Email to a friend and ask them about the appearance of the email.


Ask your friend(s) to test any hyperlinks to blogs, websites and social media profiles within the email.  Or, they can test any hyperlinks to a video cover letter.  Whilst they are testing they can also test any link within the attached CV.  There is more information to consider about the technical aspects of CVs so click this link for more information.


Your friend could also check the content of the application whilst they're checking the technical aspects.

Email addresses with inappropriate words in them can get blocked by junk mail filters.  The safest option is to use an email address that has your first name and second name from a large respectable domain such as Gmail.  Avoid nicknames, slang, crude remarks or profanity in an email address.  A spam filter is likely to stop these.  Even if they sneak through they will destroy your credibility.


We've gone through some of the basics of cover letters.  We’ve discussed different formats and different purposes of a cover letter.  You’re aware of what makes a good cover letter.  We discussed some practical strategies in drafting a cover letter too.   You’ve done research into the company which will also be useful in drafting a CV relevant to that company/role. 


The key is that it increases your credibility as a candidate.  To this end, it is a perfect advocate for you.  Well presented with content that appeals to the employer. 


We've discussed getting a second opinion (even a third if you can).  You will have some blindness to mistakes in your own work.  You can combine this with testing the application out to make sure others can view it as you want them to.  Be open minded and willing to act on feedback. 


No-one can wave a magic wand and produce an application that gets an interview every time.  You should keep a record of every application sent and its outcome.  It gives you a basis to make improvements and track results.   But you need to persevere, seek feedback and act on results.  As your job applications improve you will get more job interviews.  

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