students at desks applying for jobs and working on cover letters

How to write a cover letter

Promote your skills, experience and motivation in a cover letter

A cover letter is your first introduction to a potential employer, so it needs to show that you’re a suitable candidate.

A cover letter is an important document that introduces your resume to potential employers and highlights your suitability for the role. The effort you put into a well-tailored cover letter can go a long way to convincing a prospective employer that you’re a highly motivated candidate, and will help you to stand out in the application process.

The purpose of a cover letter

A common misconception is that a cover letter is simply a reiteration of the information on your resume. However, the structure and purpose of each document is different. While your resume is a polished summary of what you’re offering, your cover letter is a professional letter that introduces your application and reasons for applying for the job, linking the relevant skills and experience on your resume to the job requirements and organisation.

An effective cover letter demonstrates to a potential employer:

1. A strong interest in the role and the organisation

Employers want to hire candidates who are genuinely interested in their job, not just any job. Do your research and explain why the organisation appeals to you.  

2. How you meet the selection criteria

Focus on the skills and attributes the employer has mentioned in the job advertisement. In your responses to selection criteria, offer short examples of how you have developed or utilised your skills for a positive outcome.

3. Excellent written communication skills

A cover letter should be written using professional language and structured paragraphs. Proofread your letter for spelling and grammatical errors.

Cover letter tips

The primary emphasis should be on what you could contribute to the organisation, rather than on what you expect from the organisation. For a cover letter to be effective:

  • Keep it to one A4 page.
  • Ensure your name, address, phone number and email address are included on the letter.
  • Include the title, name and job title of addressee (spelled correctly), as well as the organisation’s name and address on the letter. Only use “Dear Sir or Madam” if you can’t find the hiring manager’s name.
  • Be clear about which job you are applying for by referring to the job title or vacancy number listed in the job advertisement.
  • Use a professional font (eg, Arial, Calibri – nothing too ornate or difficult to read) and keep your formatting consistent with your other application documents.
  • Indent or leave a space between each paragraph.
  • Send your cover letter as an attachment, do not type it into the body of the email.
  • Do not send the same generic letter to every employer. It must be closely tailored to the job and the organisation.
  • Keep the information in your resume and cover letter consistent – your cover letter should not introduce experience that you have not listed in your resume.