Every person is different, and so is every cover letter—but tick off these essentials and you stand a good chance of getting noticed.

Before we get going, the two golden rules of cover letter success: no copying and pasting, and no clichés! Now that we've gotten that out of the way, let's move on. A properly written cover letter shows you mean business. If you stick to the traditional format and nail the following key areas, you will be in a good position to make the most of your sheet of A4.

The salutation

Dear Reader,

We all know how letters are supposed to be formatted on the page and this is no time to get sloppy. Address the employer head on.

It can be difficult to find out who specifically is managing applications, as companies often keep that information quiet in order to avoid pesky recruitment consultants.

Check the job description first, as the contact info may give you a clue, or try looking on the company's website or social networking sites to see if you can find a name.

If not, "Dear Sir/Madam", "To whom it may concern" and "Dear Hiring Manager" are all perfectly acceptable.

Remember!

  • Dear Ms. Deloitte, = Yours sincerely,
  • To whom it may concern, = Yours Faithfully,

How Essential? 2/5

To begin at the beginning: The opening line

The opening line of any cover letter is perhaps the easiest part of the whole exercise. How you phrase the formality part of it is up to you: "I wish to tender my application…", "I would like to offer…", "Please find enclosed/attached…" and so on.

From there, you only need to tell the employer you're offering your CV and services to a specific role. Ensure the job title is correct and you're addressing the right company.

Example: I wish to tender my application to the Trainee Retail Manager position at Majestic Wine.

Note: Be sure to state where you saw the position (especially if it was graduate-jobs.com).

How Essential? 5/5

Paragraph one: Why them?

The next paragraph is where you should explain why you want the role, not why you think you'd be good at the role. Employers look for several things in this paragraph:

    1. Understanding – Employers want applicants who "get" the role and the company.
    2. Longevity – Hiring fresh-faced graduates takes an investment of time and money on the employers behalf. They want to know that you see the role as the start of a potentially long career, as they will want to hold on to their newly skilled employee.
    3. Awareness – There are subtle differences in industries, and employers want to know that you understand the sector and their company's role in it.

That's a lot to cram in, isn't it? Be concise with your words and keep your sentences tight and to the point.

How essential? 4/5

Paragraph two: Why you?

The next paragraph is the most essential part of your cover letter. It needs to show employers why they should hire you. What do you think makes you the ideal candidate for the role?

Do not simply repeat the items listed on your CV—the point of this paragraph is to make employers want to flip to the next page and read it for themselves. You should focus on drawing relevant comparisons between your experiences and skills, and the demands of the role.

How essential? 6/5

Closing the letter: The sign off

How does one ever say goodbye? Well, in this case you don't want the cover letter to be the end—so invite them to stay in touch. Let the employer know they can get in contact with you if they have any questions and that you look forward to hearing from them. It's also not a bad idea to thank them for their time.

Add the appropriate closing ("Yours truly," "Best," and "Sincerely," are all good) and your full name, have a look to make sure you've got your contact details down, and you are done!

How essential? 5/5 – because they need to know who you are in order to hire you.

Cover letters are your chance to shine, and with these essentials you'll be putting yourself in the best light.