Stressed out man has head in hands as paper flies around him.

There’s a lot of advice out there on writing cover letters – and some contradicts what you’ve read elsewhere. Partly that’s because it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach.

Each cover letter you produce should be tailored to the role as every employer and industry is different.

But there are some general guidelines which are useful to have.

We asked David Mains, Director of recruitment consultants Enigma People Solutions and an employer himself – for an insider’s view.  

‘A good cover letter gives me more of an idea what a person is like than their CV, so I think they’re very important,’ says David.

Top tips

‘A good cover letter gives me more of an idea what a person is like than their CV, so I think they’re very important.’
  • Keep it short and to the point – no longer than one page. ‘Treat it kind of like a headline in a newspaper – it’s designed to make people read on,’ says David.
  • Make it relevant by using key words from the job description. ‘Be specific. What stands out is demonstrating that you’ve read the job description by making reference to it and how it suits your skills.’
  • Don’t just list all and any skills you have. ‘Again, it’s about suiting the job. If the advert mentions motivation, then give an example to show you’re motivated. But don’t waste space writing about your attention to detail if they haven’t asked about it.’
  • Show your personality. Think about life experiences or personal qualities which could set you apart as a great candidate for the job.
  • Read other cover letters. You might spot good ways to express something or an idea of what format to use.
  • Make sure your contact details are appropriate. ‘It’s a business document – so use a professional email address,’ says David.
  • And make sure they’re accurate. ‘It’s amazing the number of people who put down old mobile numbers, or explain after you’ve reached them that they don’t check that email address. If you don’t use it, it shouldn’t be on your cover letter. It’s also useful if people let us know whether they can access that phone or email address during the day – be as helpful as you can to an employer trying to contact you.’
  • Check for spelling errors, grammatical errors, and capitals where they DON’T BELONG. ‘We have had cover letters written entirely in capitals,’ says David. ‘Why would I give you a job when you’re shouting at me?’

Check the job advert

‘A few months ago we put up an advert for our own company,’ says David. ‘In the advert, we specified to send in a covering letter with your CV. Despite that, out of 187 people who applied, only 18 included a cover letter. Those 18 went on to be considered, and we threw the rest out.

‘If you show that you haven’t read the job advert, and don’t include that extra information, you might be discounted.’

What next?

Ready to create and lay out your cover letter? Check out template for the perfect cover letter.

Need some inspiration to get you going? Clever word play has lots of ideas for words that can be used to describe you and your strengths and skills.

Enigma's blog has some great advice for jobseekers.