What makes a winning cover letter?

IT'S no secret that the cover letter is an integral part of your job application. And when you're applying for a job, you want to make sure that your cover letter will catch the eyes of recruiters and hiring managers so that they can't resist reading your résumé or CV further. However, writing a great cover letter isn't as simple as just typing up a few lines about yourself and sending them off into the world. It requires skilful crafting with attention paid to everything from formatting to keywords and phrases used throughout your document.

A catchy opening sentence

When you are reading a book and come to the first page, what do you do? If it's a really good book, you will probably read all the way through. The same goes for your cover letter.

Your recruiter reads hundreds of cover letters every day, so they will quickly get tired and stop reading yours if there's nothing interesting in that opening sentence. A catchy opening sentence is the first thing they will read which is why it needs to be short but interesting enough to make them want to read more.

A good example would be, "I am looking for an opportunity in data analytics because I feel that my skills match those outlined in your job description perfectly". This example shows how specific your point of view is about this particular job and how much research you did before applying!

The hook

The hook is the beginning of your cover letter, which is where you're going to grab the recruiter's attention. You want them to continue reading and see what you have to offer.

The hook should be brief but powerful. It doesn't need to be long or complicated, just a sentence or two that speaks directly about how your experience aligns with their needs and how excited you are about this opportunity.

Some examples of hooks are:

• "I know that being able to use software X in a production environment will help me succeed at Online Jobs Agency because I'm familiar with its operation as well as troubleshooting skills needed for when things go wrong…"

• "I am extremely excited about learning more about ABC Company's work culture and would love the opportunity to join forces with other passionate professionals like yourself!"

The personal touch

When you're writing a cover letter, you want to make sure it's personal. You don't have to include your name in the first paragraph but it's always nice if you can. A simple example would be, "I'm excited about this opportunity because my experience working with XYZ company parallels that of ABC."

A personal touch can also come in the form of a story or quote. For example, "A mentor once told me..." or "...when I was offered an opportunity at Online Jobs Agency..."

Make sure your cover letter is not too long and also not too short — it should be between one and three pages long depending on the position for which you're applying (you'll need to check with each individual company). Also, use the same font as what's used on the job description page (this way it will give the impression that both documents were created by one person).

The perfect alignment between the job and your skills

The cover letter should be tailor-made for the job. It should answer all of the questions that you can find in the job description. The tone of your cover letter is also very important, as it determines how your employer perceives you and what kind of impression you leave on them. If your cover letter sounds too generic, it may make people think that you didn't pay attention to details or don't care about their company at all.

There is one more thing we need to mention: when writing a cover letter, never forget that it has to be written for a specific position and not just any job opening! Otherwise, recruiters will simply throw away your application right away because they won't know if it suits their needs or not.

Right formatting, design

• Ensure you use the right formatting, design and keywords.

• Use bold and italics to emphasise important points.

• Use bullet points to highlight key skills.

• Use an attention-grabbing headline that draws in the reader and makes them want to read more (eg, "I'm a perfect fit for this job because I have X years of experience, Y skills, Z qualifications, etc).

• Choose a font that is easy on the eye but still stands out – avoid fonts like Comic Sans or Papyrus which many recruiters will find distasteful or unprofessional in appearance. Try Times New Roman or Calibri instead as they are both widely accepted as safe choices for most businesses when it comes down to deciding what typeface best suits their brand identity/style guide etcetera...etcetera...etcetera.

No misspelling

The first and most important thing is to make sure there are no spelling mistakes. You would not believe how many résumés I've seen where there were four or five misspelled words in a single paragraph — and these were candidates who had gone through interviews with me!

When you proofread, use a spell checker. It's not perfect, but it catches a lot of errors that can otherwise be embarrassing when they come to light during an interview. Then have someone else read it over before submitting your résumé or cover letter. If possible, have someone who doesn't know what you're applying for (like your mom) do it so they don't give away any hints on the content of your application materials as they edit them while reading aloud!

You need an excellent cover letter to make sure that a hiring manager reads your résumé or CV and wants to meet you for an interview (which is the ultimate goal).

A great cover letter can help you get to the interview stage. A good letter will make your résumé or CV stand out from the crowd, and a great letter will help you get to the interview stage.

All the best!

Courtanae Heslop is Chief Executive Officer at Online Jobs Agency.

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