How to write a cover letter: A Guide

 A cover letter is usually a very excruciating process for many of us, however, it is also a crucial piece in all of our applications, be it for a job or a university application. This text presents a practical guide on how to write a cover letter with the aim to help the readers to easily conquer this at time tedious task. A cover letter is usually a one-page document which should highlight or emphasize the most relevant skills one possesses, exceptional experiences and achievements that are relevant to the job or university application. It is very important to personalise your cover letter and be as sincere as possible, as generic cover letters rarely grab the attention of the selection committee. A cover letter is equally important to a CV as it gives the selection committee a glimpse into the motivations and expectations behind the person they are hiring or the student they are accepting in their university. So what are the elements of a cover letter? First, you need to show your motivation and reasons for applying, secondly you need to show knowledge of the organisation or university and why you have chosen precisely that institution and lastly you need to show why you are the best person for that job or university through your achievements, experience and qualifications. Always take care that you present these three points in a structured manner, but be creative when writing about yourself. A very good trick is including some facts or interesting features of the place you are applying, because the institution will appreciate your knowledge about their history and work. In your qualifications, achievements and experience it is important to include your academic background, extra-curricular activities, volunteering experience and work positions. It is important to show your progress through years, as in this way you show to the selection committee that you have a vision, you’re motivated and able to adapt to different circumstances. Your cover letter should not be longer than one page (unless specified differently by the institution you are applying to), in this way showing the institution you are applying for that you can be concise and clear if necessary. Your name and personal information such as your number, email and address should be at the top, right-hand corner, while in word your cover letter should be around 500 words or four paragraphs (unless specified differently by the institution you apply). As you can see there is not much space for long sentences, so aim to be as short, clear and concise as you can, with logical sentences and a natural flow.

Always keep the language personal, but formal; research thoroughly the organisation or study programme you are applying to, remember to be positive and use action words, instead of passive language, avoid repeating yourself, end your cover letter on a positive note. It is also crucial to have someone check your cover letter before sending, so ask a friend, a teacher, a colleague or a mentor. This way you will get great insight from someone that is not involved in the process as much as you and can give you recommendations from a distance.

Always address the letter, depending on where you are applying. If there is a clear person on the job call, you should address the letter to that person starting with “Dear”, otherwise if there is no person stated in the call you can say “To whom it may concern.” For universities, you can write “To the selection committee” or again “To whom it may concern”, however, always remember to sign off your cover letter with “Yours sincerely.” Avoid using bullet points in a cover letter, however, it is good to have a structured paragraph that clearly shows your intent.

To sum up, beyond the technicalities, in your first paragraph state clearly where you are applying to and how did you find out about the organization or study programme. In the second paragraph emphasize your education process and achievements, relevant work experience and activities that have helped shape you as the best candidate for the spot you are applying to. In the last paragraph write concisely why you chose to apply for that job or university degree, show your interest and knowledge about the position or programme, and avoid generalisation. This paragraph is supposed to show you motivation for applying and why you are the best candidate. And lastly, do not forget to sign off your letter with “Your sincerely.” 

Despite this guide, please always check the requirements of the institution you are applying for. It is not unusual for institutions to have their own guidelines, moreover, while for job applications the cover letters are required to be short, it often happens that universities require longer cover letters reaching 1000 words. However, the same rules apply, be concise, clear and personal.

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