Back to Basics: Structuring a Cover Letter to Really Sell Your Achievements

Ah, the dreaded cover letter. 

If you’ve never written one before, you might be wondering where do I even start? If you have written one before, you’re probably thinking, does anyone even read these?

For starters: yes, people do read them! And if the job application specifically asks for one, you need to make sure you’re supplying one. Cover letters are also a great way to introduce yourself and your resume if you’re applying speculatively for roles.

Sure, they might seem a little outdated, but they still serve a role in the current job market: they allow you to tell prospective employers who you are, showcase why they should hire you and can help you stand out in a sea of hundreds of other candidates.

Cover letters don’t have to be a headache and to help you, we’ve pulled together some top advice for getting this right:

Cover Letter Basics

Include the Hiring Manager’s Name

Avoid generic opening lines like ‘To Whom It May Concern’ or ‘Dear Sir or Madam’ - they’re archaic and don’t demonstrate you’ve done your research. Find out the hiring managers name (it could be included in the job description, or do some research on the company website/LinkedIn). If you can’t find the hiring manager’s name, try addressing your cover letter to the department head of the role you’re applying for. If you really can’t find a name to address your cover letter to, use something like ‘Systems Engineer Hiring Manager’ or ‘Administrative Team Leader’.

Highlight Your Experiences that Matters Most

Unsure which of your past experiences you should be featuring? Make sure you read through the job description! Pick 2-3 pieces of experience or achievements you have that are most relevant and focus on these. Don’t be afraid to align them directly to the job description too, saying, “I noticed the role calls for *this* skillset, which is something developed from doing from *this* role/project/experience”. 

Top Tip: Copy the text of the job description into a word cloud tool like WordClouds, and see which words stand out the most. That’s what the hiring manager is looking for - so focus on these within your cover letter!

Showcase Your Skills

When you’re starting in the workforce, it’s natural you might not have the same experience that matches the job role you’re applying to - and that’s not something to be afraid of! Instead, you have a tonne of transferable skills to offer, so focus on highlighting those. Think about school projects, team sports, volunteering, odd jobs you may have done for family - and use these to back up what you’ve got to offer.

Keep it Short and Sweet

Do not write more than one side of A4 for a cover letter! In fact, the more succinct, the better. Use your cover letter to highlight key areas of experience on your resume and indicate to the employer they can find more in-depth information on your resume or LinkedIn profile (or both!). 

Edit Edit Edit

Spelling and grammar are super important - especially if you’ve said attention to detail is a top skill! Make sure you give yourself time to review and edit your cover letter. You can use spell check or software like Grammarly (it’s free!) - and also read your cover letter out loud. You’d be surprised at how helpful this is for finding errors. Ask a trusted friend, sibling or parent to give it a proofread for you too - a fresh pair of eyes never hurts.

Top Tip: One spelling or grammar mistake can be all it takes to turn off the hiring manager—especially if writing skills are an essential part of the role you’re applying for.

Take it to the Next Level

Craft a Killer Opening Line

You don’t need to open with “My name is …” - they can already see this from your email and resume. But definitely mention the role you’re applying to, as some hiring managers interview for more than one position at a time, and keep the rest of your opening short and snappy. Highlight your excitement about the company you’re applying to, even something like “I’ve been keeping an eye on your job openings for a while, waiting for the perfect opportunity for me - and this is it!” conveys a lot.

Don’t Just Talk About What the Company Will Do For You

It’s a common mistake that many young people make when putting together a cover letter - they talk about everything the company will do for them and offer them in experience. The truth is, employers are already pretty aware of what they have to offer a new candidate and what you’ll get out of working for them! So keep the focus on what you will offer the company and the value you will bring to the role. Emphasise the skills and experience you have that means you’ll be a success - and the reason why the employer needs to meet with you. 

Top Tip: Check out the case studies on the NGTU site for heaps of inspiration, ideas and tips!

Don’t Apologise for Your Lack of Experience

There will be many times when you apply for a job where you don’t have perfectly aligned experience or tick every single box on the selection criteria - but that doesn’t mean you’re not a great candidate or wouldn’t be perfect for the company! Don’t downplay the experience you do have, and don’t draw attention to what you don’t. Instead of saying something like, “Despite my limited experience in this industry…” say something like “I’m excited to translate my experience from doing *this* to this position because I’ll bring *these* skills.”

And One Last Thing

Write a Fresh Cover Letter for Each Job

It might be tempting to simply change the company name and job title and keep everything the same, but it’s important to make sure you tailor each cover letter to each job you apply for. Of course, if you’re applying for jobs in the same industry, these changes might be small - but they should be there! Employers want to see you’re genuinely excited about the specific position and their company—tailoring your cover letter is the best way to do this.

Top Tip: While it’s fine to recycle a few sentences for similar jobs from one cover letter to the next, don’t even think about sending out a generic letter! 

Couple a tailored cover letter with a polished resume, and you’ll be on the way to your next interview (and job role) in no time.

Have you written a kick-ass resume and ready to get started with writing the perfect cover letter for your next job? You can apply for the latest course, job or a gap year right here on NGTU!

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