Before sending off any cover letter, try to determine the name of the person, so that you can address the individual in person.

Please remember that the goal of any cover letter is to complement your Personal Branding, Résumé and CV… not to repeat it.

Different types of cover letters serve different purposes. Select the style of cover letter most fitting for your particular situation (i.e. your context). There are basically four types of cover letter styles…

  1. An application cover letter to apply for a specific job opening or vacant position.
  2. Referral cover letters containing the name of the person who referred you to the job or vacancy (i.e. a warm referral).
  3. Letters of interest (also known as a prospecting cover letter), which is suitable to inquire about possible job openings, vacancies and career opportunities at a company, organization or institution.
  4. Networking cover letters that request assistance and advice regarding your current career development strategy and/or your present job search campaign.
When writing a cover letter pay attention to…

Targeted cover letters (also known as application cover letters) highlight why you might be an excellent candidate to consider for the position you are applying for.

Targeted cover letters address the specifics, needs and requirements of each position you are applying for and highlights how your…

  • background,
  • knowledge,
  • skill-set,
  • capabilities,
  • experience and
  • accomplishments

…might make you uniquely qualified for the position.

When doing so, it also indicate that you have researched the company or organization to some extent, which is an action that most employers tend to appreciate and hold in high esteem.

Personalizing a cover letter is very important.

Before sending any cover letter, try to determine the name of the individual concerned, so that you can address this person directly.

In many instances, the person’s name will not be readily available, so you have to perform online research (e.g. Google/LinkedIn), contact the company/organization by phone or even pay them a visit.

By all means, mention warm referrals in your cover letter.

Having a mutual contact, makes it much more likely that the person addressed in the cover letter, will consider to meet with you.

Tip: Make sure that this contact (warm referral) is someone the person respects and gets along with, because you – especially in a career context – are judged by the company that you keep.

Common salutations might be used when you don’t have the name and details of the person recruiting for the position. Although it is strongly recommended (even when it require some effort) to personalize your cover letter.

Creating a salutation for your cover letter could be quite tricky, when you are responding to a “blind job advertisement”, exploring a possible prospect or request advice and/or information.

The following “blind salutations” tend to be accepted by the majority of employers, HR-officers and recruiters…

  • Dear Hiring Manager or Dear Recruiter (±38%)
  • To Whom it May Concern (±26%)
  • Dear Sir/Madam (±18%)
  • Dear Human Resources Director (±9.5%)
  • Leave it blank (±8%)

Content is KING when preparing your cover letter(s).

The content of your cover letter summarizes what position you are applying for, how you might be uniquely qualified for the position and how you will follow-up with the person after submission.

The three sections of your cover letter might be…

  1. An introductory paragraph: This is the reason for writing and sending the cover letter to the person. For example… This letter is to indicate my interest in the position of junior management consultant as advertised at your company. Try to link your introductory paragraph to something you noticed in the advertisements, on the company’s website or something personal that reflects your passion for the job. Originality, ensure that your cover letter is more than likely to be read.
  2. The 2nd & 3rd paragraphs: Provide a summary of your present skills-set, competencies and achievements (it is advisable to use bullet points or numbered lists) and always linked it to the needs and requirement of the vacancy the employer is attempting to fill, and indicate why your skill-set and competency level might possibly satisfy the employers requirements. For example… With ten years of company-based human resource generalist experience and expertise, I believe that the knowledge, skills and abilities I have developed to date would prove to be a strong asset to your new HR consultancy business undertaking.
  3. The closing: Offer to discuss your background and the position in more detail and clarify how you will follow-up on this cover letter and first contact made. For example… I will welcome the opportunity to further discuss my background and qualifications related to this position and will phone you next Friday, July 11th to follow-up on this submission.

Additional pointers to fine tune your cover letter…

  • A well written cover letter is formal but not too formal. Make sure your cover letter matches the style of the organization and the job you are applying for.
  • Try determine a contact name, so you can personalize your letter and/or email.
  • Use the first paragraph to briefly explain why you’re writing to them.
  • Over the next paragraph or two outline your qualifications and match them to the job specification.
  • Use bullet points to get maximum impact with as few words as possible.
  • Be specific, and when you can include a figure or two, so much the better.
  • Be enthusiastic and show them you’ve done your research on the company.
  • In the final paragraph, point the addressee to the CV you have attached or enclosed for further details, and thank that person for his/her time in considering your application.
  • It’s a good idea to sign off with a positive statement to prompt the employer/recruiter to take action. Be assertive, never apologetic and avoid arrogance.
  • Keeping your cover letter powerful and short (about 250-300 words), specific and upbeat will increase your chances of success (i.e. potential employers will read your CV). This means that you must quickly “get to the point” in simple and powerful phrases. Do not provide any information that is not relevant to the employer.
Consistently ask yourself whether the information and content that you are using in your cover letter, would be important for the company and the position you apply for.

The goal of any cover letter is to complement your résumé & CV not to repeat it.

Your cover letter – in essence – is a branding tool to “show-case” your unique capabilities to prospective employers, therefore…

  • Write in a conversational tone to convey openness and warmth.
  • Always indicate how you heard of the job opening (e.g. job board, mutual colleague, friend, …etc.) For example… This is in response to the opportunity of Grants Officer with [replace with company/organization name] as posted on the Networking Job Board – www.altanacorporate/comjb/
  • Use practical & concrete examples to highlight how your background and qualifications might enable you to meet job specifications with a high level of success. For example… With over 10 years experience in the area of supply change management, I am confident in my ability to find cost-efficient technologies from a variety of suppliers.

Cover letter presentation is a very close second to the content you use.

To better ensure that your letter will be read in its entirety, make use of some simplistic formatting to help make it more reader-friendly. Consider things such as…

  • font type (e.g. Arial or Times New Roman),
  • font size (e.g. 12 pt for headings and 10 pt for content) and
  • use bullet/numbered lists to highlight your accomplishments

…will help the reader to quickly grasp the essential points of your professional portfolio.

Use your cover letter to be proactive in explaining any possible employment gaps.

When there is a gap in your employment history, whether…

  • due to a job lay-off,
  • taking time off to raise your kids,
  • return to school or
  • further your education

…your cover letter provides the ideal opportunity to initially explain this gap.

This explanation shouldn’t be detailed, merely a sentence or two. For example… I am proud of my accomplishments with [replace with name of company] and resigned so that I may pursue an advanced certification on a full-time basis. Indeed, my achievement was a significant factor in providing me the necessary motivation to further my studies.

Be sure to follow instructions when submitting email cover letters. Especially when applying for a position.

Email submissions – today – is common practice, but exercise care to follow the employer’s directions carefully and adhere to best email practices (e.g. refer SASCEC’s email guidelines)…

  • When the job posting instructs you to include your cover letter and CV as an attachment. Create and attached it as either a Microsoft Word document, Adobe PDF file or a plain text file.
  • If you are instructed to type your cover letter in the body of the email message, use a plain font type and size and remove all formatting from the email (i.e. don’t insert any HTML text).

A cover letter example...

Your address
City
Postcode
youremail@email.co.za
1st July 2015

Dear Mrs Smith,

Marketing Internship

I would like to apply for the position of Marketing Intern as advertised on the Networking Job Board. I am a second year student studying Bcom Marketing at the University of Pretoria.

I have always had a keen interest in marketing which influenced my decision to study marketing at university and part-take in my extracurricular activities. I am an active member of the Marketing Society where I help organize events, society meetings and talks from prospective employers.

Through my part-time job, I was responsible for establishing an effective marketing campaign for the launch of a new boutique in the Hatfield Square, using a combination of methods such as email campaigns and social media. I therefore have a strong understanding of how modern day marketing techniques can be used for business opportunities and networking.

Furthermore, I was elected Team Leader as part of my degree module “Student Enterprise”, where we were required to develop our own business idea and pitch it to potential investors against an opposing team. This develop my leadership skills by delegating the appropriate roles and responsibilities to each team member, ensuring that the team would successfully reach our aims and objectives.

I have many skills which I am able to contribute to the job role. My excellent communicational skills (both written and verbal) allow me to interact with members of an organization at all levels. I have developed my public speaking and presentation skills by completing and presenting university presentations to new and prospective students and faculty.

I am organized, efficient and strive to complete any challenge given to me to the best of my ability.

Please find attached a copy of my CV. I could provide a list of references on request.

I am look forward to hear from you soon in this regard.

Yours faithfully,

Joe Niemand

Review Cover Letter(s) Introduction to prospective employers and enticement to read your CV.