When applying for a university course or a job, you'll almost always have to write a cover letter (or statement of purpose) along with your application. In each case, you aim to convince the reader (usually a company hiring team or university admissions unit) that you would be a great choice of candidate.
Unlike your CV (also sometimes known as a resume), which is relatively brief and concise, your cover letter allows you to be more personal and to tailor your writing towards the position you're applying for. Essentially, this is where you showcase your potential value to the employer or admissions team.
The goals of your cover letter are to explain why you're applying, why you would make a great candidate, and how you feel you could add value to the company or university.
That's it in a nutshell! But let's go deeper than that and give you some substantial help. In this article, we take you through all the fundamentals you need for writing a cover letter or letter of motivation. We'll also point you in the direction of some other helpful articles here at Edvoy.
Table of Contents:
- What should you include in a cover letter?
- Cover letter vs Statement of Purpose: What's the difference?
- How long should a cover letter be?
- Cover letter structure
- How do you write a cover letter if you don't have any work experience?
What should you include in a cover letter?
As well as simple things like your contact details and the address of the person you're sending it to, your cover letter should include your reason for applying (i.e. why you want this job or why you want to study this course at this university).
On top of this, you should explain why you're the ideal candidate. Here, you should demonstrate your skills, achievements and experiences that help build your case as a good fit. This could be prior work experience (if you have any), extracurricular experience, personal traits or soft skills that could help you.
What are soft skills? These are skills that explain how you carry yourself and work. We go into more detail on this below in the "How do you write a cover letter if you don't have any work experience?" section, but for now, know that the seven core soft skills are leadership, teamwork, communication, problem-solving, work ethic, flexibility, and interpersonal skills.
Cover letter vs Statement of Purpose: What's the difference?
A cover letter and a statement of purpose are essentially the same. However, a cover letter is the term used when applying for a job, while a statement of purpose is the term given to the letter you submit when applying for a university course.
The goal with each is the same, i.e. to demonstrate and convince the reader why you should be chosen!
However, one key difference is that a statement of purpose is generally longer, at around 800-1000 words.
How long should a cover letter be?
There's an unwritten rule that your cover letter should be 300-350 words. One A4 page with a font size of 11 or 12, using 3-5 paragraphs, leaving room for the address and contact details at the top.
It's important to note that admissions teams and hiring staff read a lot of cover letters and CVs, so it's essential to keep it short and easy to read.
Cover letter structure
As mentioned above, it's best to write 3-5 paragraphs in your cover letter.
However, make sure to include your name and contact information at the top right of the letter!
Next, it's time to begin writing the actual letter. After addressing the recipient formally, use the first short paragraph to explain why you're reporting this letter, e.g., applying for a place on a course or for a vacant job. Use the proper title of the position or the lesson.
Next, you should explain why you are the ideal candidate in 1-3 short paragraphs. Talk about your applicable skills, experience, qualifications and achievements. Take the time to write about your ambitions too, as they pertain to your application, as well as any soft skills which would help you.
In short, tell them what your value is!
Finally, use the final paragraph to thank them for reading and let them know that you look forward to hearing back from them.
How do you write a cover letter if you don't have any experience?
Suppose you're applying for a job as a student or recent graduate. In that case, you can make up for your lack of professional work experience by focusing on your academic achievements, ambitions, and soft skills (leadership, teamwork, communication, problem-solving, work ethic, flexibility, and interpersonal skills).
Also, if you have any relevant experience gained from part-time jobs or extracurricular activities, highlight how this makes you a suitable fit for the role!
For some inspiration, check out our article 9 Extracurricular activities to do at university that can give your CV a boost.
However, always remember not to say something like, "I am a good leader". Instead, show them how you're a good leader!
Try something like this instead: "I've demonstrated my leadership abilities as a member of the student council," or "Having moved abroad to study in English at the age of eighteen, I've learned the value of hard work, flexibility and good communication."