General Cover Letter Guidelines
- Always write one. A resume sent without a cover letter makes for an impersonal application and conveys that you can’t be bothered to explain why you are interested in this job and why you are the best person for it. Employers don’t always read cover letters, but they always expect to see them.
- Be brief and to the point. Focus on the WHO’s, WHY’s, WHAT’s and HOW’s – who you are, why you are applying for this job in this company, what relevant skills you possess, what specific results you achieved, and how your experience makes you a suitable candidate.
- It’s not about you. Although the letter showcases your skills and achievements, it’s not just about what you have done – it’s about how what you have done enables you to meet the company’s needs.
- Address it to a specific person. If you begin your letter with “Dear Ms. Tan,” the reader is much more likely to continue reading than if you use a generic “Dear Sir or Madam.” In the age of Google and LinkedIn, it’s easier than ever to discover the name of a hiring manager or director at the specific department. Use that to your advantage.
- Introduce yourself with relevant details. If you are a student, mention your school year, school name, and prospective major. E.g. “My name is Jane Doe and I am a second-year student at Yale-NUS College, intending to major in Economics.” If your major is not directly related to the position, focus on relevant experience instead.
Always state which position you are applying for. The company may be hiring for more than one.
- Show familiarity with the company. Read annual reports, press releases, and news articles to understand the company’s history and present goals. Then, in your letter, explain how those goals align with your own goals and experience. This will show your initiative and willingness to engage.
- Read the job description. Take time to understand the ideal candidate’s profile and required skill set. The JD may also give instructions on what to include in your application, and how to apply. Don’t skip this part – if you can’t follow direction in the job ad, you will have a hard time convincing the employer that you can do this on the job.
- Focus on two to three key skills. In each body paragraph, elaborate on one skill required for the job, explaining how you gained and/or applied it in your jobs, student clubs or volunteer experience. Don’t copy your resume word-for-word – instead, enhance the parts you feature in the cover letter.
- Show, don’t tell. Instead of making unfounded claims, support each paragraph with specific, relevant achievements. Whenever possible, use numbers to give a sense of scale: saying that you single-handedly planned and executed an event for 100 people is much more impressive than saying “I am very hard-working.”
- Connect the dots. Every time you have elaborated on a skill and its related accomplishments, circle back and explain how they will enable you to contribute to the company’s goals outlined in the job description. Don’t expect the reader to connect the dots – you are the one who has to convince them that you are a good fit for the position.
- Show passion tempered with professionalism. You can explicitly state that you are excited about the position, but try not to exaggerate or sound desperate to join.
- Thank the reader for their time. Be confident and courteous in your conclusion. Restate your desire and ability to contribute to the company, show interest to have a follow-up conversation, and thank the reader for considering your application.
- Keep it to one page and up to 5 paragraphs. For a student or fresh graduate, a 1-page cover letter is sufficient. Include an introduction, 2-3 paragraphs on your experience and skills, and a 1-2-line conclusion.
- Balance out the text and white space. Margins should be at least 0.75” – otherwise, the vast expanse of text makes it very obvious that you are trying to cram many details in. If the letter doesn’t fit, edit it further.
- Use a simple font no smaller than 10.5pt. Arial and Verdana are simple, easy-to-read fonts. But even they become illegible when shrunk, so use at least a 10.5pt font size. Use the same font for your resume and cover letter.
- Use colours and designs minimally. Unless you are applying for a job in graphic design or visual arts, stick to black text on a white background. Coloured text can look very messy or illegible if used inappropriately. Similarly, avoid overusing style elements like Bold, Italics, Underline or ALL CAPS THAT MAKE YOU LOOK LIKE YOU ARE SHOUTING if you write an entire sentence in them.
- Be smart with space. To save space and give the reader a handy reference point, enter your name, email and phone on a single line in the header, separated by bullet points or vertical lines.
- General cover letter format:
First and Last Name of Addressee
Job Title, Department
Company Street Address
City Name Postal Code
Date when you plan to submit your application, in DD Month YYYY format (27 September 2014)
Dear Mr./Ms… (Always use Ms. for a female unless she is listed differently on the company website)
Body Paragraph 1 – Skill 1
Body Paragraph 2 – Skill 2
[Body Paragraph 3 – Skill 3] Optional if you only focus on two skills.