Cover Letter Writing Best Practice Guide
(Last updated 23/4/20)

Given the current state of the economy and employment, many members of the Jamat may find they will soon need to re-enter the job market. Now is the time to prepare for your job search, which includes preparing a cover letter alongside your CV.

With employers often receiving lots of applications for each vacancy, you need to ensure that your cover letter makes a lasting impression. A cover letter acts as a personal introduction and helps to sell your application. It gives you the chance to show why you're the best candidate for the job. It should complement your CV but not duplicate it.

AKEPB has prepared this comprehensive best practice guide to help with writing your cover letter and is offering 1-to-1 assistance with your CV, cover letter or interview preparation. Please contact us on [email protected] and we’ll be happy to help.

Here is a guide to increasing your chances of success.


Click on the headings below to jump to the section that you want to read about first.

Length & StructureResearch & Tailor to the OrganisationResearch YourselfOpen Strong & Convey EnthusiasmTarget a Personal ContactFormat and PresentationIdentify Your USPsProofread Your Cover LetterWhat Not to DoFurther Reading

Length & Structure

A cover letter is typically three to five short paragraphs and should not exceed one A4 page. It should be brief enough that someone can read it at a glance. It usually adopts the following structure:-

  1. Which position interests you and why
  2. Your most relevant skills and experiences
  3. How your skills and experiences can benefit the employer
  4. Closing / requesting an interview

1. First paragraph - The opening statement should set out why you're writing the letter. Begin by stating the position you're applying for, where you saw it advertised and when you are available to start.

2. Second paragraph - Cover why you're suitable for the job, what attracted you to this type of work, why you're interested in working for the company and what you can offer the organisation.

3. Third paragraph - Highlight relevant experience and demonstrate how your skills match the specific requirements of the job description. Summarise any additional strengths and explain how these could benefit the company. Tailor your competency skills to the role and include any achievements you have.

4. Last paragraph - Use the closing paragraph to round up your letter. Reiterate your interest in the role and indicate your desire for a personal interview. Now is the time to mention any unavailable dates. Finish by thanking the employer and say how you are looking forward to receiving a response.

If you are contacting an employer speculatively rather than in response to a particular advert, your approach will be slightly different.

The opening paragraph should explain why you are writing and what has drawn you to the company. Specify the area you would like to go into, eg marketing.

The man part of the letter should remain the same, highlighting your skills and experiences and providing examples. Talk about the sector and show that you have done your research.

You should close the letter by thanking them for their time and expressing your interest in hearing from them with any available job vacancies that they may have. Even better is to end with a call to action or next step, such as: ‘I’ll be in contact soon to arrange an interview.’ or ‘I’ll follow up next week to further discuss how my skills and knowledge will be highly beneficial to the company.’

Research & Tailor to the Organisation

You should rewrite your cover letter every time you apply for a position in order to target the company. Sending out a generic letter for all applications rarely yields positive results and recruiters can spot your lack of time and effort.

Look at the company’s website, its executives’ Twitter feeds, and employee profiles on LinkedIn. Find out what challenges the company is facing and how your role would help address those. Knowing the company better also helps you decide on the right tone to use in your cover letter.

● Who will be receiving and reading your letter
● The skills and experience mentioned in the job description
● What the role involves, day-to-day responsibilities, routes to progression
● The company, its mission statement, culture and values
● Products, services and clients.
● Their competitors and market position
● The sector and any recent news or trends
● Popular campaigns
● The organisation's goals for the year and their long term vision

Research Yourself

The purpose of the cover letter is to talk about yourself and why the position is for you. Having a good handle on your past accomplishments will make this far easier, specifically:-

● Your education and work experience
● Extra-curricular activities you have done
● Volunteer work
● Any stand-out attributes. For example, do you have excellent customer service skills?
● Hobbies and interests

Try to mirror some of the phrases they use in the job description. Illustrate your skills with examples.

Open Strong & Convey Enthusiasm

Candidates typically write themselves into the cover letter with ‘I’m applying for X job that I saw in Y place”. Instead, lead with a strong opening sentence. Start with the punchline: why this job is exciting to you and why you’re right for it.

Make it clear why you want the position. In the current economy, a lot of people have the right skills, so employers want someone who really wants the job. However, don’t go overboard with the flattery. Remain professional and mature.

Target a Personal Contact

Always try and address your cover letter directly to the person who will be reading it. Bear in mind that you're more likely to receive a reply if you send it to the right person. You can do this by searching the company's website for details of the hiring manager or alternatively you could call the organisation to ask who you should address your letter to.

If you're struggling to find a named contact you can use a general greeting such as:

Dear Sir/Madam
Dear Hiring manager
Dear Human resources director

However, general greetings should only be used once you have exhausted methods of finding a named contact.

If you address the letter to a particular person, you should end the letter with “Yours sincerely”, If you are only able to use a general greeting, you should end the letter with “Yours faithfully”.

If you have a personal connection with the company or someone who works there, mention it in the first sentence or two.

Format and Presentation

Presentation is important so you'll need to format your cover letter properly. Make sure the document is as uncluttered as possible, use the same font and size as you use in your CV.

If you're sending it through the post or handing it in use good quality plain white paper to print it on. You should sign the letter by hand before you send it off as it adds a more personal and professional touch.

If sending electronically, put the text in the body of the email rather than as an attachment, to avoid it being detected by spam filters. Make sure you format the subject line of your email as follows: Application for [Job Title] – [Your Name]. If you were given a reference number, include that in the subject line as well. If you must send the cover letter as an attachment, send it as a PDF file, to ensure it can be opened on any system.

Avoid buzzwords such as “I am a team player”; instead choose an example of when you worked well in a team and explain what happened and what you achieved. Use numbers or stats to illustrate your points and quantify your results. Bullet points can also be an effective way of demonstrating your points.

If you’re going into a creative industry or job role, experiment with layouts and formats. As long as all the important information is in there and the layout isn’t distracting, you can afford to be a little creative.

Identify Your USPs

These are your unique selling points. Be positive about what you have to offer and clearly outline how your skills and experience meet those requested in the job description. Demonstrate why you're the perfect candidate.

Drawing on the research you did earlier, show that you know what the company does and some of the challenges it faces. These don’t need to be specific but you might mention a trend that’s affected the industry. Then talk about how your experience has equipped you to meet those needs; perhaps explain how you solved a similar problem in the past or share a relevant accomplishment.

Proofread Your Cover Letter

Never rely on a computer spellcheck program to pick up every mistake. Print off your cover letter and double-check for spelling and grammar errors before passing it to a family member or friend to look over. Also make sure that your own contact details and the company name are correct.

What Not to Do

1. Do not use a generic salutation, make it specific
2. Do not try to be funny
3. Do not use pictures, Comic Sans font or word art
4. Do not include wage or salary expectations
5. Do not complain about a previous employer
6. Do not rewrite your CV in cover letter form. This is your chance to expand on your skills, abilities and experience
7. Do not start with a boring opening line: “My name is X and I am applying for job Y at your company”
8. Don’t be too detailed - you are not telling your life story. Keep the letter as short as possible, while adding value
9. Don’t stick rigidly to a template, every cover letter needs to be truly unique. The recruiter will notice when you’ve made the effort and when you haven’t
10. Don’t say the job will help you develop your skills - you need to offer them your skills, not the other way round.
11. Do not forget to proof read the cover letter as any slip ups jump out and indicate unprofessionalism. Check for spelling, grammer, flow and the correct names

Further Reading

Harvard Business Review (examples included)

Prospects (examples included)

CV Library (examples included)

Example CLs

Student Job (examples included)