A cover letter is the letter that accompanies and introduces your résumé or curriculum vitae. It explains to the reader how your experience, qualifications and personal qualities make you the right person for the job. While a CV on its own simply shows what you have done, the cover letter highlights and expands on those things you have done that are relevant to this particular job. It is in effect a guide to the 'best bits' of your CV. The cover letter is of critical importance. Employers read your cover letter first. If they don't like it, they may not even look at your CV, no matter how beautifully designed it is.
A good cover letter should:
- Elaborate your job objective and/or state the job you are applying for (see below)
- Emphasize and highlight those aspects of your education and experience detailed in your résumé/CV which are most relevant to this job
- Draw the attention of a prospective employer to your skills, talent and experience
- Indicate briefly what it is that attracts you to this job
- Suggest and get an interview
Cover letters come in two types: speculative letters, which are written to a company to ask if there is a job they could consider you for; and replies to job advertisements, where you are writing to apply for a specific and clearly described position. While there are some small differences, both letters are basically similar.
A cover letter should be constructed in three or four paragraphs, with a word limit of about 200-300 words. If it is longer, the reader may lose interest; if it is much shorter, it will seem as if you have nothing to say for yourself.
The first paragraph of a speculative cover letter introduces you and gives your reason for writing, specifying the sort of area you feel best suited to or hope to work in. A cover letter replying to a job advert is more rigid: you must mention in your first paragraph the advertised title of the job you are applying for, and how you read or heard about it.