Text transcript: What do you put in a cover letter?

What do you put in a cover letter?

Employers usually expect a cover letter to accompany a resumé. Unless the application specifies otherwise, you should include one. This movie will provide you with some ideas to help you prepare an effective cover letter, whether you are responding to a job advertisement, canvassing for employment, or writing a referral based letter following a recommendation.

But first of all, why are cover letters so important?

(Video Interview shown):

Your cover letter is probably going to be the first thing the employer reads about you. It allows you to introduce yourself, expand upon and personalise your resumé. Cover letters reflect your written communication skills, your maturity, your organisational ability and your ability to follow instructions. It's also your opportunity to show that you've thought seriously about the job, taken the trouble to address the key requirements and are worthy of a closer look. You have the chance to describe how you meet the employer's needs. Don't assume that the employer is going to dig out the relevant information from your resumé. You need to highlight your match to the job. (End of Video Interview)

Your letter should answer the following questions; why are you writing? Why do you want to work for us? And, why should we hire you? When writing your cover letter, keep in mind that it's about addressing the employer's needs not yours.

Your letter should draw the employer to your resumé and be specific about how you meet the job requirements. Don't just state what's in your resumé. Use the cover letter to highlight your relevant skills and accomplishments that are in line with what the employer wants. The most important point you need to convey is what you can do for the organisation. Link your career aspirations to the employer or industry. This is your opportunity to show that you've thought seriously about the job. Be polite, formal, confident and respectful. Under no circumstances should you ever use abbreviated "chat" or sms type language or jargon. Follow the employer's instructions and be truthful.

Your cover letter should not be a generic letter you send out with all applications. Employers want a targeted letter written specifically for them rather than a generic letter you send out to all employers. Some organisations receive hundreds of applications, so your cover letter needs to be perfect in terms of punctuation, grammar and spelling. Your cover letter should not contain attachments that were not requested such as photos or mailed letters that contain chocolates. Avoid beginning every sentence with 'I' and do not use an unprofessional e-mail address. Avoid negative expressions such as 'Although I don't have any experience'. Be clear and confident about what you have to offer.

Before starting your cover letter, research each employer's organisation so you can personalise each letter. Personalising your letter is far more effective. Get information from their website, publications, careers fairs.

Find out who they are, what they do, what they want and why you want to work for them.

Review the selection criteria of the position and make a list of what the employer wants.

Selection criteria are the skills, attributes, experience and education, the employer has identified as being essential or desirable to performing the job role. By making a list of criteria required, you can start addressing the employer's specific needs and therefore tailoring your letter to the organisation.

Once you've identified the selection criteria, you can brainstorm examples of when you've demonstrated or developed specific criteria.

An effective way of doing this is to divide your life into four categories; work, extra-curricular activities, study and personal life. Think of examples within these categories when you've demonstrated or developed the criteria.

A major selling point of a cover letter is the opportunity to influence the reader by creating a well-presented letter. Some organisations receive hundreds of applications, so your cover letter needs to be perfect in terms of layout.

Follow a conventional business format with everything aligned to the left. Be clear and concise so that the length is no more than one side of an A4 page - around 4-5 paragraphs. Contain plenty of 'white space'- avoid the temptation to narrow the margins or cram text on the page. Be aware of the format you have saved your application in as you want to ensure the employer can open the file.

If you're submitting your letter in hardcopy, ensure it is printed on good quality paper.

Follow the employer's instructions, especially in regards to what should or should not be attached and whether key selection criteria needs to be addressed as a separate document.

The information you need to include on your cover letter are your name, address and contact details at the top followed by today's date and then the recipient's name and address. If at all possible, identify and use the name of the recipient rather than "Dear Sir/Madam". Always address the recipient formally, not by their first name. State the reference number and full position title of the position you are applying for. As mentioned previously, the body of the letter should be around four to five paragraphs. Include an appropriate closure such as 'yours faithfully' or 'yours sincerely'. Don't use casual signoffs such as 'cheers', even in e-mails and even if you know the person. Your application for work is business communication. Follow this with your signature and your name printed clearly underneath. You may even state your enclosures, such as resumé or academic transcript, so the employer is aware of documents

that have been attached. Here is a guideline that may help you structure your letter to make it easier to read.

In your first paragraph, explain why you're writing to them, you may include what you're currently doing.

Second paragraph- explain why you want to work for that employer and express interest in the specific job role.

Third and fourth paragraphs- detail your relevant skills, experience and personal attributes. Explain how you developed or demonstrated your skills and knowledge.

Fifth paragraph- finish on a positive note, expressing interest in meeting at interview.

Let's go further into detail…

Paragraph one aims to attract the attention of the reader by explaining the purpose of your letter. If it's a speculative enquiry, ensure that you state that you are asking about a possible position, whether it's work experience, an internship or employment. If you are responding to an advertised position, be sure to confirm the position, and reference number (if any) that you're applying for. Use a mutual contact if possible. You may wish to confirm your qualifications or provide a brief specific outline about the degree you are studying and what year you're in. By doing this, the reader is able to quickly form an understanding of why you have contacted them. Some good examples of paragraph one include:

Please accept my application for the position of Graduate Accountant, Reference Number 1234, as advertised in The Age newspaper on June 21, 2008. I have recently graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce, majoring in Accounting and Finance and am ready to embark on my professional career.

As a 4th year Chemical Engineering student at Monash University, I write to enquire about potential work opportunities available with Life Source Water during the period of January - March 2009. I am particularly interested in your company's progressive approach to water management. My final year project investigating the environmental impact of wastewater services in the Lower Valley region developed skills that I believe will benefit your organisation.

I am writing to enquire about the employment opportunities with your organisation on the recommendation of Professor Boots, from the Faculty of Business and Economics at Monash University. Professor Boots suggested you might be interested in the research I have undertaken on the education outcomes of Horn of Africa refugees in the western suburbs of Melbourne. My understanding is that your organisation is committed to creating business opportunities for recent arrivals and I would appreciate meeting with you to discuss how my research could be used to develop program initiatives.

Your second paragraph should personalise your interest in the particular organisation you are applying to. Here you must demonstrate your knowledge of the organisation that you have acquired through appropriate research and explain why that organisation appeals to you. Avoid generic clichés about an organisation's size or reputation- use specifics.

You can source this information through the organisation's website, careers fairs, relevant publications and professional associations. Some examples of paragraph two are:

I am attracted to Big Guns because of the variety of commercial work that is carried out. My perception of your firm is one of professionalism, excellence in legal advice and a rewarding place in which to work, which has drawn me to apply for articles. I have a particular interest in Industrial Arbitration and am aware that your firm has a very strong practice in this area. This is exemplified by the fact that Big Guns represented the Electrical Workers Union in the Victorian Electricity Dispute.

Your involvement in the brown sciences and advice on rehabilitation of contaminated sites is closely aligned with my interests. Through my TAFE studies, I have gained valuable knowledge in areas such as waste management, treatment and disposal. Moreover, at Monash University, where I have to date achieved a High Distinction grade average, my major in Chemistry has been complemented with a minor in Environmental Science. One of my subjects of particular interest has been Environmental Chemistry: Pollution and Remediation.

Your third and fourth paragraph should state how you meet the organisation's needs. It is imperative that you address the selection criteria for any advertised position to convince the employer that you are the most suitable candidate and worth being interviewed. You can usually identify the most important criteria from the job advertisement, position description, or by visiting the organisation's website. If you're writing a speculative cover letter, research the skills and attributes most commonly required for the position that you're enquiring about and address these. Back up the skills and attributes you state you have with concrete examples of when you've demonstrated or developed them. You may wish to substantiate your claims with examples from your study, previous employment or extra curricular activities. You need to demonstrate your match to the position. Some examples of paragraph three and four:

My course has helped me to gain relevant technical skills in testing and monitoring water quality and provided an understanding of aquatic systems.

Course field trips and volunteering activities for a conservation research project have also added to my abilities to collect and record data for analysis and learn more about the current issues, policies and legislation of Natural Resource Management and freshwater systems. My scientific report writing skills include the ability to be methodical, accurate and comply with standards.

As a part time retail assistant I learned to deal with a wide range of people Helping in the family business has also raised my understanding of the importance of listening to customers in order to build good client relationships. In both jobs I was working in a team and my good communication skills helped me to work well with others to get a job done.

Your final paragraph should include two messages: a statement of appreciation to the reader, and a request to meet them in person.

Phrase your sentences positively. For example;

Thank you for reviewing my application. Please find attached a copy of my resumé as well as a statement of claims to key selection criteria.

I would welcome the opportunity to discuss my application further at interview. I can be reached on …

Using e-mail- what's the difference?

Occasionally it's appropriate to have the cover letter in the body of an e-mail. If this is the case, you will not require the location details of the employer.

Still use formal business language and demonstrate your match to the selection criteria. Keep in mind that you write for on-screen readability. Your paragraphs may be shorter, bullet points are more acceptable and capital letters are usually only used for headings.

Some final tips on cover letters …

(Video Interview shown)

The reader may not interpret the information the way you do so, so make clear and specific statements. Don't include expressions such as "refer to my resumé", and try not to plead by making statements such as "if only you would give me the chance. You don't want to come across as desperate. Be credible- there is no need to exaggerate or lie. Lies have a way of catching up with you.

There is no excuse for errors in spelling or grammar. Most important tip is to keep in mind that employers’ want targeted applications, so research the organisation and position you're applying for thoroughly and demonstrate your research in your cover letter.

(End of video)

Need further Assistance? Then go to www.monash.edu.au/careers/