The golden rule of applying for jobs is to follow the employer’s application instructions. If the application states that you must provide a cover letter, then it is essential that you do this. If there are no instructions provided, sending a cover letter is recommended. Your cover letter is a great promotional opportunity and is often the first thing employers will read, so it needs to create a positive first impression. Your cover letter is a demonstration of your written communications skills, so if it is written poorly your resume may not be read. Your letter needs to sell your skills and suitability for the position to convince the employer to read the rest of your application and offer you an interview.
The cover letter is also an important indicator of whether you understand the business of the organisation and can make a valuable contribution, have thoroughly read the job description, and are genuinely interested in the job. Employers will probably spend less than 30 seconds reading your cover letter, so you need to provide a compelling document, which highlights your suitability for the position and organisation to ensure your application progresses to the next stage.
- Write a new cover letter for every position. It needs to be tailored to the role and organisation to sound genuine. Employers expect the letter to speak to them and their needs and requirements. It is very obvious to recruiters when an applicant has ‘cut and pasted’ text with the only change being the person it is addressed to/company name. These applications are the first to be dismissed.
- Resist the temptation to use an online template. Some templates are not suitable for the Australian job market and many students find them difficult to edit.
- Assess the job advertisement and position description. This is critical. Highlight the key words in these documents. You now have a list of items to address in your cover letter. Giving clear examples of how you meet these requirements will put you in a competitive position.
- Use the organisation’s specific name repeatedly throughout the letter, instead of always referring to them as ‘your organisation’.
Tip: Statements as simple as ‘We are seeking an enthusiastic, motivated person to work in a cooperative team environment. The position offers variety and will require the successful applicant to develop and implement a range of communication strategies’ are sometimes hiding the complex requirements of the position. As part of your application, you will need to address each of these areas, giving an employer evidence of where you have previously demonstrated these skills and qualities.
Skills and experience
It is very important in any job application that you directly refer to the skills and experiences required for the job – this could be the difference between making it to the interview stage or receiving a ‘thanks but no thanks’ email. It is not advisable to say, ‘although I don’t have any experience in…’or ‘my skills in … are limited’, because this is negative and does not sell/market you to the employer. If you do not possess all the skills required, you will need to provide evidence of the skills you do have and be able to explain how they could be transferred to the role.
If the employer is looking for someone with experience in using Canva software (graphic design) and you have never used it, you could say: ‘I am proficient in the use of Adobe Illustrator and have used this to create logos, charts and diagrams. My skills in creating digital and printed images will enable me to quickly learn how to use Canva, and I would welcome the opportunity to undertake any training required.’
If you cannot think of anything that remotely meets the requirements, ask your friends or a trusted colleague, as they may be able to help you think of an example of where you may have met that requirement. If you are missing a critical technical skill and have never heard of that skill before, check that you are applying for the right job! NEVER tell lies in an application as this will ALWAYS surface at a later stage.
Format and presentation
- Choose a professional, business-style format and font for your cover letter. Be consistent and use the same font style and size in both your cover letter and resume. Either Arial or Calibri in font size 10 or 11 are good choices.
- Ensure your contact details are current and your email address is professional.
- Make sure you remain within word or page limits. Normally cover letters are only one page, however, some applications require you to address the selection criteria/key requirements or to discuss your motivation for applying in the letter. Often these applications require a one-or-two-page cover letter. Always follow the employer’s instructions. (The different styles of written responses are covered in Topic 4 of this module).
Use a business style format with your contact details on the right hand side, the addressee and the date on the left hand side.
Name of recipient – e.g. Mrs S Smith
Position (if known) – e.g. Manager – Graduate Recruitment
Organisation name – e.g. Queensland Health
Organisation address – e.g. Douglas QLD 4814
Date – 1 January, 2023
Try to find out the name and title of the addressee as this immediately creates a connection. “To whom it may concern" may be used if you cannot find the name of a contact.
Dear Mrs Smith, - not Dear Mrs Susan Smith
Include a subject line or heading to identify the role you are applying for. Bold the text for clarity.
RE: Application for position of [insert name of role], Reference number [insert if given]
Use your opening paragraph to explain where you learned about the role. State what you are studying and what you can bring to the role.
I wish to apply for the position of [position title] with [organisation name] as advertised [where advertised] on [date]. I am currently studying a [degree title] at James Cook University and expect to complete my degree in November [year]. My experience in the area of [specify area] and [specify area] has allowed me to develop skills in [skill] and [skill] and I am keen to extend this experience with [organisation name] who are a recognised leader in this field.
The second paragraph is where you can promote yourself as the best candidate. Demonstrate how your skills, knowledge and experience from study and work will match the job requirements and help you to add value to the organisation. Take care not to simply repeat what is in your resume – this is your chance to expand and give examples of your skills, knowledge and experience relevant to the position you are applying for.
My studies in [specify area] and my active participation in the [name of organisation] has allowed me to develop my leadership and communication skills. As part of my studies, I acted as a Student Mentor to first year students which required me to advise groups of 20-30 students on studying at university and how to best organise their timetable to maximize their study opportunities. In addition to maintaining an overall grade point average of 5.8 (highest being 7), I also coordinated a fundraising program for the Cancer Council of Queensland. Through activities that included weekly BBQ’s raffles and seeking corporate sponsorship, I raised $5000 for my local Cancer Council branch. This achievement required excellent organisational skills, the ability to communicate with a broad range of people and a flair for marketing.
The next paragraph should be about the organisation. You want to make it clear that you have done your research, you know their business and you want to work for them. Tell them why you are interested in the role. Be concise and genuine and make the match between the qualities they are looking for and what you have to offer.
I am aware that [company name] seeks to [mission statement]; this is an area that I am passionate about and am enthusiastic about contributing to. My thesis research on [detail on thesis/project topic] allowed me to develop my [ability] and [ability] abilities and I am keen to apply these to the position of [position title]. Throughout my degree, I have undertaken work experience with a variety of [discipline] firms including [company name], my supervisors regularly commented on my strong work ethic and my diligent attention to the projects I was assigned.
Finally, finish on a positive note thanking the employer for their consideration and including your contact details. You can also specify the documents you have attached.
I look forward to the opportunity of discussing my application with you and would be pleased to supply any further documentation you require in addition to my attached resume, statement addressing selection criteria and academic record. I can be contacted at any time on 0400 111 222 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for considering my application.
Last but not least, check for errors
Ensure your grammar and spelling are spot on. Ask a trusted friend to read it for you.
An example of a Cover Letter is available on our website.
Action: Go to your downloaded workbook and complete Activity 2
Your first contact with an employer may be via email. The language you use will demonstrate your written communication skills, therefore you must take care with your wording so you can create a great first impression. While your email does not need to be in cover letter format, it does need to be professional and not resemble a text message to a friend.
If a cover letter is requested, make this a separate document and attach it with the rest of the documents. If it is not requested and you are sending an email to attach your resume, your email does not need to be in cover letter format but it is more than just an brief email.
Tip: Make sure the subject line is relevant and the message is clear to the reader. It doesn’t matter how good your cover letter or resume are if your email isn’t opened.
For the purpose of job hunting you will need a professional email address and voicemail. Take care when creating your email signature – it needs to include your full name as opposed to just your first name. Consider using your JCU email address on your job applications as it provides a professional email address, and you can use it after you graduate. JCU graduates have access to saved emails and SkyDrive files for life.
Example Email Signature:
4th Year Bachelor of Social Work student
James Cook University
LinkedIn profile:[customise and embed your LinkedIn URL]
Expressions of Interest (EOI) and speculative applications
Many opportunities are not advertised, and so it can be worthwhile to send a speculative cover letter or email to an employer you wish to work for. Speculative applications need to be sufficiently interesting so the prospective employer will want to meet you or contact you even though they may not currently be recruiting. Approaching employers in this way also shows initiative and motivation. You need to explain the purpose of your speculative letter and express an interest in working for the organisation, and you need to clearly state the type of work you are interested in. Are you seeking graduate or casual work, paid or voluntary opportunities? It is important to get this message across quickly at the beginning of your letter.
Spamming multiple employers will decrease your chances of a reply. Employers expect an email to be directed to them personally. A little extra effort could be the deciding factor in the selection process; employers have said they can ‘feel’ the interest of an applicant through the language they use in emails and letters, so ensure your wording is professional, sincere, and passionate and demonstrate the connection between your career goals and the business.
Find a contact
You are more likely to be considered if you direct your application to a named person at an organisation. To find a key contact:
- Head to the website of an organisation you want to target. Try to find a contact list or team list to locate a relevant contact.
- Look for news about the organisation and current projects they are involved in – you will find them in the general and industry specific press and newsletters, LinkedIn interest groups etc. You may be able to identify the name of the project leader etc. who would be worth contacting and the content of the project that you might want to help working on.
- Cold call by phoning the HR Department of the organisation you are targeting and explain who you are, your year level at JCU and field of study, and your interest in their organisation. Ask for a key contact’s name, email address, and direct phone number. It is a good idea to develop a short script and practice it before you make the call, so that you give a good first impression.
- Network with alumni – JCU alumni can be a great source for contacts and referrals. Head to the JCU Alumni LinkedIn page and start researching.
- Network with students – make connections with fellow students who have similar interests to you; they may have contacts in your industry area.
- Use social media – many organisations have a social media presence, which you can use to find contacts.
Tailor your speculative cover letter or email
Your opening paragraph needs to introduce you, explain why you are writing, and how your education and experience could bring value to the organisation. Make it clear what type of opportunity you are seeking: graduate or casual work, paid or voluntary. It is important to get this message across early, so that employers know exactly why you are contacting them. Finally, follow-up with a phone call a few days after.
Example of an Expression of Interest email:
Dear Mrs Smith
Start with the reason you are writing:
I am writing to explore [e.g., employment opportunities/vacation work] with [Company]. I have been referred by Ms Jean White from [where] who suggested you might be recruiting for [opportunity]. You will see from the attached resume that I am currently [details of what you are doing , e.g., final year Science student]. I am extremely keen to [comment on why you are interested in this organisation/industry].
Match what you can offer with what you think they are looking for (add other skills and abilities that will be of interest):
I have read from your [website/recruitment information] that your organisation employs graduates who have [types of education/skills and abilities]. As indicated on my resume, I [add sentence supporting how you would be able to meet their requirements and fit the culture of the organisation].
Indicate your interest in THIS organisation:
[add sentence demonstrating your understanding of their business, some ideas about how you could contribute, what past experiences/skills you could bring]
I strongly believe in your approach to [major achievement/mission/goal] and this area of [development/innovation] is something I would like to pursue.
I look forward to further discussing my interest in (state the opportunity) and can be contacted at any time on [Phone number].
Log into Big Interview and watch the video: Writing Persuasive Cover Letters (10.12 mins)