The first thing a potential employer sees in your job application is the cover letter. This doesn't just support your CV – it's an opportunity for you to stand out from the crowd and persuade the recruiter to put you through to the next round.
Be wary of spending hours on perfecting your CV at the expense of your cover letter. If you need some inspiration on what to include and what format to use, here are our helpful guides – just remember not to copy them as exact templates.
1. Standard, conservative style
This is ideal for sectors such as business, law, accountancy and retail. For more creative sectors, a letter like this might be less appealing, and could work against you.
Dear Mr Black,
Please find enclosed my CV in application for the post advertised in the Guardian on 30 November.
The nature of my degree course has prepared me for this position. It involved a great deal of independent research, requiring initiative, self-motivation and a wide range of skills. For one course, [insert course], an understanding of the [insert sector] industry was essential. I found this subject very stimulating.
I am a fast and accurate writer, with a keen eye for detail and I should be very grateful for the opportunity to progress to market reporting. I am able to take on the responsibility of this position immediately, and have the enthusiasm and determination to ensure that I make a success of it.
Thank you for taking the time to consider this application and I look forward to hearing from you in the near future.
2. Standard speculative letter
This may vary according to the nature of the organisation and the industry you're applying to.
Dear Mr Brown,
I am writing to enquire if you have any vacancies in your company. I enclose my CV for your information.
As you can see, I have had extensive vacation work experience in office environments, the retail sector and service industries, giving me varied skills and the ability to work with many different types of people. I believe I could fit easily into your team.
I am a conscientious person who works hard and pays attention to detail. I'm flexible, quick to pick up new skills and eager to learn from others. I also have lots of ideas and enthusiasm. I'm keen to work for a company with a great reputation and high profile like [insert company name].
I have excellent references and would be delighted to discuss any possible vacancy with you at your convenience. In case you do not have any suitable openings at the moment, I would be grateful if you would keep my CV on file for any future possibilities.
3. Letter for creative jobs
We've used the example of a copywriter but you can adapt it for your profession. The aim of a creative letter is to be original and show you have imagination, but understand what the job entails. Balance is essential: don't be too wacky, or it will turn off the reader.
Dear Ms Green,
· Confused by commas?
· Puzzled by parenthesis?
· Stumped by spelling?
· Perturbed by punctuation?
· Annoyed at the apostrophe? (And alliteration?)
Well, you're not alone. It seems that fewer and fewer people can write. Unfortunately, there are still a lot of people who can read. So they'll spot a gaffe from a mile off. And that means it's a false economy, unless you're 100% sure of yourself, to write your own materials. (Or to let clients do it for themselves.)
To have materials properly copywritten is, when one considers the whole process of publishing materials and the impact that the client wishes to make, a minor expense. Sloppiness loses clients, loses customers.
There is an answer. Me. Firm quotes are free. You can see some of what I do on my multilingual website at [insert web address]. If you'd like, I can get some samples out to you within 24 hours. And, if you use me, you'll have some sort of guarantee that you can sleep soundly as those tens of thousands of copies are rolling off the presses.
Luck shouldn't come into it!
With kindest regards
Other helpful resources
•How to write a perfect CV and cover letter
•Applying for jobs without experience? How to build and sell your skills
•Five steps to the perfect graduate CV
•School-leavers and graduates: how to write your first CV
•How to write a personal statement for your CV
•CV templates to fit every stage of your career
Looking for a job? Browse Guardian Jobs or sign up to Guardian Careers for the latest job vacancies and career advice
8 tips for better email cover letters
If you're emailing a resume, your cover letter will deliver the first impression. These eight tips will help you craft a better email cover letter.
Follow these tips for emailing a cover letter that will get you noticed.
As the saying goes, you don't get a second chance to make a first impression. If you're doing a job search or resume submission via email, the first impression any employer will have is from your cover letter.
When you're asked to email your job application to a company, you can either copy and paste your cover letter into the body of your email, or you can attach it as a file, along with your resume. If you send your cover letter as an attachment, you can send it as either a PDF file or Word document. Here's what else you should you consider when crafting an email cover letter.
How should a cover letter look?
Some tips for writing a cover letter are standard, whether you're e-mailing or snail mailing: Be professional, with correct spelling and grammar, and—very important—do use them. (Here are some cover letter samples if you'd like to get a visual idea.) Other tips pertain only to the electronic medium, and when disregarded, could ruin your chances before your foot is in the door.
Don't waste your subject line
What you write in the subject line can determine whether your letter gets read, according to Lydia Ramsey, business etiquette expert and author of Manners That Sell. "Don't ever leave the subject line of your email blank, and don't waste it by just inserting the job number," Ramsey says. "The subject line should be clear and specific to the job you're looking for." An example: "Bilingual CPA seeks account manager position."
Use standard cover letter protocol
Write your letter as the body of the email and include a salutation (use the receiver's actual name if you know it) and a standard closing. ("Sincerely" or "Warm regards" work well.) Leave blank lines between paragraphs, and use appropriate signature and closing lines.
Include all the information in your signature line you would have on your business card, including snail mail address, phone number and email address. "Remember, your email address doesn't always automatically show up on the receiver's email program," Ramsey says.
Keep it short and dynamic
Managers and recruiters are busy. They want to get the gist of your pitch in 150 words or fewer. The first paragraph is crucial, according to Ramsey. "Hook the reader in the first paragraph by selling him or her your abilities," she says. "Use short paragraphs and short sentences to give a very brief bio on who you are and what you can do for them, and wrap it up in the second paragraph."
Keep it simple
If you write a cover letter in a word-processing program, strip away all formatting and save the file as plain text. The ideal line length is 40 characters. Some email packages automatically do word wrap for you, so your cover letter doesn't arrive in fragments.
Don't get cute. Save emoticons, abbreviations, and wild colors and fonts for your nonprofessional emails. The same goes for humor. Chances are, the reader won't think it's funny, and may even find it irritating.
Don't respond to an ad for a copywriter when you're really a graphic designer, says Diana Qasabian, talent director at Syndicatebleu. "It may be the tight job market, but we've been receiving more and more letters responding to a specific job from candidates who are not at all qualified for it," she says.
"We look for specifics in email cover letters, which means skills and abilities," she adds. "Embellishment and fluff are not necessary. It's not necessary to write, 'I'm a hard worker.' That goes without saying."
Keywords are key
Because many companies use applicant tracking systems (ATSes) to find and screen candidates, skill-oriented keywords will boost your chance at being discovered, a recruiter at a large technology company says.
"ATS tools track keywords that identify skill sets," she says. "So even if you're not right for the job you're seeking, strong keywords improve the chance that your cover letter and resume will be retrieved in a future search or be selected for a more appropriate job."
Play by their rules
Take the time to learn the company guidelines for submitting resumes, and follow them. Many companies list these guidelines on their Web sites. Also, don't include attachments unless they are requested. Some companies block all emails with attachments to prevent viruses.
Check it again
Thoroughly spell-check and proofread your email letter. And remember, your email software's spell-checker won't catch grammar mistakes. Send it to a friend first and ask him to check it for content and style. If all your friends are tapped out, or even if they aren't, test your email cover letter by emailing it to yourself, and put yourself in the mindset of an employer when you read it.
Get recruiters' attention
Once your cover letter is polished and ready to go, make sure you get maximum use from it. After all, it'll do you no good just sitting on your computer. You need to get your cover letter in front of the people who are doing the hiring. Could you use some help getting their attention? Join Monster today. As a member, you can upload up to five resumes and cover letters—each tailored to the different kinds of jobs that interest you. Recruiters search Monster every day looking to fill top jobs with qualified candidates, just like you.