How to Write a Cover Letter in English
Hoping to apply to a job in an English-speaking country? You might think that after putting together your résumé or CV your work is done, but there’s still a very important step left: the cover letter.
A cover letter is a short letter – no more than one page – that goes on top of your application. It’s the first thing that employers read, and, if it’s well-written and intriguing, should encourage the hiring manager to turn the page and look at your application, instead of throwing it in the trash and moving on.
It’s important to remember that the cover letter makes a first impression, so it’s important to pay particular attention to spelling, grammar, and readability. The letter is your opportunity to show your personality, interpret your experience, and explain to the employer why they should to hire you.
Because the letter should be specific to the job opening, don’t send the same letter to every company you apply to. Feel free use similar ideas and wordings, but employers should not be able to tell that you erased another company’s name and wrote theirs in. Do a little research about the company before you write the letter. You want to come across as interested, informed, and resourceful.
Start by addressing the letter. Do what you can to find the name of the person who will be making the decisions, and address it to them. This makes the letter more personal. Otherwise, address it to a relevant job title:
Dear Mr. Jones,
Dear Ms. Smith,
Dear [Company Name] Hiring Manager,
[note: in the US, it is customary to put a period/full stop after the abbreviations “Mr.” and “Ms.” In British English, this punctuation is left out.]
In the first paragraph, explain why you’re writing. State the position you’re applying for and where you heard about the opening. If you talked to anyone in the company about the position, be sure to mention them by name, as it will distinguish you from other applicants. Also include a very brief explanation of why you’re interested and who you are..
In the second (and possibly third) paragraph(s), discuss your experience in more detail and, most importantly, how it applies to the opening. Don’t list everything that you’ve included in your résumé or CV. Instead, choose a few very relevant and/or impressive points that will intrigue the reader. Use active words that highlight your skills.
These paragraphs give you an opportunity to change how the hiring manager reads your résumé or CV. For every bit of experience that you mention, say how it demonstrates a skill that would be essential for the job. This is particularly important if your experience isn’t quite in the same field as the opening: you have the opportunity to explain how your experience in other fields can be applied to this new one.
Remember that employers will pick whichever candidate they think is best for them. Don’t talk about why the opening is perfect for you, but instead why you are the perfect candidate for the opening. The difference is subtle but important to keep in mind!
In your closing paragraph, inspire confidence and show enthusiasm. Restate your interest in the position and say that you look forward to discussing your qualifications at their earliest convenience (feel free to use those exact words!). Providing your contact information and suggesting an in-person discussion show your enthusiasm, put the reader in the mindset that they would like to contact you, and make it easy for them to do so.
Finish the letter by thanking the reader for their time and consideration, and then conclude with:
Once you’ve written the letter, reread, reread, reread. It can’t be stressed enough that this is your first impression to the employer. Make it count!
These days, applications are often submitted electronically by email or online. If you submit your letter in this way, submit it as a .pdf file rather than a .doc or .docx. This way, it looks cleaner and more professional.
Soon, you’ll be on your way to the interview! Check out our interview tips, or consider improving your English language skills and confidence with one of our courses. Any other questions about English in the job application process? Let us know in the comments!