The cover letter – how to write a convincing letter of application
Your cover letter is your first contact with your potential new employer, and it creates their first impression of you. For this reason it is very important. You should take great care when writing your cover letter to ensure that you stand out from the crowd. If you are going to convince a recruiter to invite you for interview, you will need to write a professional and original cover letter. Using an application template, we will show you how to structure your letter and what information it should contain.
Contents: Six steps to the perfect cover letter
- Pay attention to the structure of your letter.
- Create an error-free letterhead.
- Write a concise subject line.
- Address your point of contact personally in the salutation.
- In the main body of the letter, explain clearly to your desired employer what added value you offer the company.
- Formulate a confident concluding sentence.
Keep things in order: the structure of the cover letter
Before you write your application, you need to know how to structure it. There is a classic structure for this (which even has its own DIN standard), which specifies what information should be provided at which point. Even if this structure is not to be understood as a rigid specification, a cover letter should basically contain the following elements:
- Place, date
- Subject of application
- Personal salutation
- Your qualifications and skills
- Added value you can offer the company
- Closing salutation
- Reference to attachments
We will now take a closer look at the individual parts of your cover letter and explain what you should pay attention to. The beginning and end of the cover letter should follow the form of a standard letter, and do not leave much room for creativity. The main body of the letter can be formulated more freely, however. Also, keep in mind that your cover letter should not be longer than one A4 page.
Your cover letter’s “business card”: the letterhead
In order for your application to reach the right address and person, It is crucial that your letterhead is correct. This begins with your contact details such as name, address, telephone number and email address. This means that the recruiter can see at a glance who they are dealing with, and provides them with all the information they need to get in touch with you. Below, write the address of the company including the name of your point of contact.
But be careful! The first mistakes in cover letters often creep in here: spelling the company name incorrectly could result in your immediate exclusion from the application process. Typos in the address or the recipient’s name are also seen as careless mistakes, and they may have more of an effect that merely making the recipient uncomfortable. Therefore, check the letterhead very carefully before you send your cover letter. This is especially true if you reuse an application template several times.
Once you have thoroughly checked the contact details, enter your place of residence and the date on the right-hand side. Again, before sending the cover letter, check whether you have entered the correct date.
The issue at a glance: the subject line
Before you start writing the text of your cover letter, you need to come up with a concise subject line. It is important to refer to the position you are applying for. Extensive formulations have no place in the subject line. Simply write which job you are applying for and add the reference number or code number listed in the job advertisement. This makes it easier for the recruiter to assign your application to the relevant job advertisement.
A clearly formulated subject line might look like this:
- Application for position of retail salesperson, reference number: 123456
- Application for position of accountant, code: 01012019
You can inform the recipient of your application where you saw the job advertised by inserting a reference line in a smaller font under the subject line:
- Application for position of retail salesperson, reference number: 123456
Job advertised on LinkedIn dated 1st January, 2019
- Application for the position of accountant
Job advertised on the company’s website, code 01012019
Get personal: use the correct salutation
Have you ever received a letter addressing you as “Dear Sir or Madam”? Did you feel like you are probably one of thousands holding a duplicated cover letter in your hands? Put yourself in this position when you write your cover letter and heed the following tip: address your letter personally!
You will often find the point of contact’s name in the job advertisement. If this is not the case, do some research on the company's website or in professional networks such as Xing or LinkedIn. If in doubt, the safest way is to call the company and ask for the name of the relevant person.
If you feel insecure or uncomfortable before you call, follow these five steps to finding out the name of your point of contact:
|How to telephone and find out the name of the point of contact for your cover letter:|
|Step 1: Start by referring to the job advertisement and your wish to apply. This way, the person you are talking to knows immediately why you are calling.|
|Step 2: Ask for the name of the person to whom you should direct your application. As a rule, the person you are speaking to will know or will be able to find out.|
|Step 3: If this is not the case, politely ask if you could be transferred to the appropriate department (for example the HR department).|
|Step 4: If you are unsuccessful with this, thank the person for their help and say goodbye.|
|Step 5: If you are transferred, repeat steps 1 and 2.|
HR specialists often make a note of calls of this kind, as they demonstrate your high level of commitment and that you wish to deal with the company in a professional manner.
However, if your call is unsuccessful, there is one last option: write a friendly email to the company and ask for the correct point of contact. If you do not receive an answer within a few days, use the formal salutation “Dear Sir or Madam”.
The core of the cover letter: the main body
After the formal part of the cover letter, in the main body you now have the option to be more creative. However, make sure you limit your cover letter to one page of A4. To help you, we have provided a guide to the approximate number of lines you should use for each section of the main body. The main part of the cover letter is divided into three elements:
- The introduction (4–6 lines)
- Your qualifications and skills (5–7 lines)
- The added value you can offer the company (5–7 lines)
A useful tip: Your cover letter should explain to your desired employer what added value you would bring to the company if hired. The only thing that interests the recruiter is the skills you offer which would contribute to the company's success. So leave your personal goals and dreams aside.
The introduction (4–6 lines)
Your cover letter’s introduction is about awakening the recruiter’s interest. Therefore, leave out hackneyed phrases such as “I am hereby applying…” or “I was delighted to see your job advertisement…”. HR staff and bosses have read these impersonal, formulaic phrases countless times. Start with an individual introductory sentence that will stick in their minds.
When formulating a unique introduction, the AIDA formula originally used in advertising can be helpful. AIDA stands for Attention, Interest, Desire and Action.
In the first sentence, draw the recruiter’s attention with an original introduction and awaken their interest, perhaps by mentioning a special skill. Combine this with an extraordinary success you have had to awaken their desire to know more. Finally, motivate them to take action and ask them, for example, to keep reading or to invite you to an interview.
Your qualifications and skills (5–7 lines)
After a lively introduction, it is now time to tell the recruiter about your qualifications and skills. Don’t just regurgitate your CV, however. Instead, only mention skills that match the advertised position and substantiate them with concrete examples and figures from your previous positions:
- Have you been able to significantly increase sales or customer satisfaction?
- Do you have experience of managing teams?
- Do you have several years of professional experience?
- In addition to your studies, have you previously worked on similar projects (as an intern or student assistant)?
In addition to hard facts, soft skills are also decisive for HR professionals. These include, for example, the ability to work in a team, empathy, communication skills and analytical skills. However, don’t just write “I am a team player and have good communication skills” or “My greatest strength is my empathy”. Instead, give concrete examples that demonstrate your social skills. Make sure that you only mention soft skills that match the position advertised.
Added value for the company (5–7 lines)
The following part of your cover letter is crucial for your potential future employer: what added value do you offer the company? Why should they hire you instead of someone else? Think carefully about this, because you are very likely to be asked this question in an interview.
Formulate a combination of your greatest strengths and the most important requirements for the job. In this way, the recruiter can directly see how your core competencies match the advertised position. Do not digress, however. Again, you only have about 5–7 lines to provide 1–2 examples that make you the ideal candidate.
Name another concrete success story from your recent professional past which will also be of benefit to your potential new employer. Feel free to use the informative value of numbers to sell yourself to the recruiter or boss and convince them of your added value for the company.
On the home straight: the conclusion
After you have clearly presented your qualifications, skills and added value, finish by formulating a confident final sentence. However, avoid conjunctives such as would or could, as well as overused phrases such as “I would be delighted to be invited to an interview.” This makes you look like a supplicant hoping to receive an invitation, instead of being certain of it.
Be confident in your conclusion and assume that your application will take you through to the interview stage. For example, write:
- I look forward to convincing you of my skills in person and will be happy to answer any further questions you may have.
- I will be happy to convince you personally of my skills, which I can demonstrate to you during a one-day trial period.
- I look forward to receiving a positive answer and getting to know each other personally during the interview.
After your individual, self-assured concluding statement, sign off with the classic salutation “Kind regards/With kind regards”, your handwritten signature, and the word Attachment, which signals that you have also sent attachments. It is not necessary to list all attachments.
Incidentally, the subject of salary expectations is a tedious one for many applicants, but should never be swept under the table if the company asks. The conclusion of your cover letter or a P.S. are best places to indicate your desired salary.
As you can see, you do not need to work magic to write a good cover letter. If you manage to convince your potential employer of your skills and specific added value for the company, you have the best chance of being invited to an interview.
Any remaining questions or comments about how to write a cover letter? Want to apply for a specific job in our recruitment section and have questions about the job advertisement? Then get in touch with us now!