How to Write a Cover Letter for a Job Application

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Including a cover letter with you job application takes a little extra time, but it can mean the difference between getting an interview and your CV being discarded.

[Featured image] Applicant writes a cover letter on a blue clipboard

Learn how to write an effective cover letter as part of your job application to maximise your chances of getting an interview.

When applying for a job, more often than not, you will need to include a cover letter. Consider your cover letter your sales page, giving an introduction to yourself and an invitation to the recruiter to read your CV or application. It’s not always clear whether you need a cover letter or not when studying a job advert, so if you’re unsure, always include one. A good cover letter could be the difference between the hiring manager reading your CV, or discarding your application and moving on. 

Get your facts together

Writing a cover letter for the first time can seem a daunting prospect. With so much that could be included, it’s hard to know where to start. The best place is by getting your facts together and deciding what you want to include. 

Think of all your accomplishments to date that are relevant to the role and make a list. Try not to use anything that comes directly from your CV. Your cover letter is the place to elaborate on the points in your CV to provide more detail and to really highlight what you can do, rather than repeating points.

Also do some research on the company. Find out what its values are, its mission, and any defining features. This will help you tailor your experience and skills to the company culture and give you some background to explain why you are a good fit. 

Address the criteria

It’s important that you don’t include anything and everything. Less is more with a job application cover letter. You will be scored on how well you meet the selection criteria, so use that as a guide for what to include. Link everything you write back to the criteria, and try to find relevant examples where possible. 

If you don’t have an industry related example to hit a criterium, use something else, but make it very clear what it is demonstrating. There are many ways to demonstrate soft skills. For example, learning a language can demonstrate your communication skills, and being part of a sports team can show that you know how to work well with others.

When you know what you want to include, put a plan in place for the structure of the letter, and writing it will be much easier. 

Start with a strong opening

If you want a recruiter to read the entirety of your cover letter and consequently move on to your CV, the opening is what you need to focus on. You want to draw the reader in and impress them enough to keep their attention. This means addressing the letter properly and giving a clear reason for writing. 

In the case of a job application cover letter, you will need to state what you are applying for and what makes you the ideal candidate. This will be covered further in the bulk of the letter, but the first paragraph can be a summary of your experience, skills, and accomplishments, linked clearly to why this makes you the ideal candidate and giving a taste of what’s to come in the rest of the letter.

Make connections

Your research on the company will be beneficial in helping you to tailor the cover letter for a job application. Generic cover letters don’t do well. Job application cover letters that have been tailored to the role perform best. Aside from ensuring you evidence how you meet the job criteria, you can also make it clear that you know the company you’re applying to and value what it does. 

Mention something in your cover letter that particularly draws you to the position or company and aligns with your values, experience, or way of working to show that you have done your research and have picked this company specifically as a result. 

Be confident about your achievements

The body of your cover letter is where you highlight your relevant achievements in relation to the role you’re applying for. Don’t be vague here. Clear, evidence-based examples do best when communicating your value, so be confident in citing what you’ve accomplished throughout your career and how that relates to what you can do in the role in question. 

Use numbers 

To back up your accomplishments, use numbers to really highlight your results. Rather than stating you increased a company’s ROI, how much did you increase it by? If you have a percentage value, this adds clout to your examples. Similarly, use figures when talking about how many people you manage or how many delegates you got through the door at an event you organised. Adding a measurable gives your achievements more weight. 

Use keywords

To ensure that you're really tailoring your job application cover letter, it’s helpful to use the job description to pick out keywords. Using the exact wording used in the advert, job description, and person specification, will mean you have the best chance of passing ATS screening systems, which scan your application for keywords to determine whether you are a good match. 

Be positive and enthusiastic

Give your cover letter for a job a positive, enthusiastic tone. Use future tense to show how you will use your skills and experience to benefit the company you’re applying to and show how keen you are to take on a new role and new challenges. 

If you are lacking experience in some areas, don’t highlight it. Always find a way to compensate for it, without implying it is a negative factor. For example, if you don’t have experience in project management, but you have a qualification in Scrum, write about your qualification and all the benefits that brings, without pointing out your lack of experience. 

Call to action

Your cover letter should always end with a clear call to action. In your last paragraph, sum up your skills and experience and make it apparent that you would welcome discussion around your application and the role. You can be bold and propose your availability or simply tell the reader that you will look forward to hearing from them regarding an interview. 

Cover letter structure

Taking on board all of the advice above, you can consider the following structure for your cover letter for a job application. This can of course be varied to suit your needs but is a great outline. Look to write no more than a page, unless you are writing a cover letter that is a part of the application process and you need to address all of the essential criteria. In this case, take the space you need.

Dear …………………………………

I’m writing in application of the role of XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX which I saw advertised on XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX. - Approx 10-20 words.

Opening paragraph: Cover why you are writing (what you are applying for), why you are interested in this company and role, and why you are a great fit (giving an overview of your relevant skills and experience). - Approx70-100 words

Middle paragraphs: Depending on what you need to cover, this could vary between one and three paragraphs. This is essentially the most important part of the cover letter, where you detail your skills, experience and accomplishments, in evidence of the selection criteria. Pick out the most important requirements from the person specification and evidence your ability to meet them. - 100 - 250 words in total.

Closing paragraph: Include a brief summary of why you are the ideal candidate for the role and include a strong call to action. - Approx 25- 50 words

Get started

Use this guide to write a cover letter for a job that can help you get you noticed and land an interview. For advice on how to write cover letters for specific roles, you can take a look at these articles. If you are looking for further support, you can take a look at cover letter courses on Coursera as a starting point.

Written by Coursera • Updated on

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

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