Writing a compelling
Cover Letter

A winning cover letter, along with your resume, can boost your chances of landing an interview for your dream job. When skilfully crafted, it showcases your personality and explains how and why you are a great fit for the job – something a resume alone might not do.

Writing a Compelling Cover Letter

01

Do You Need A Cover Letter

A cover letter is a one-page document that is often used in tandem with resumes. Cover letters present the opportunity to showcase your personality, give context to your accomplishments, and inform them of your suitability for the role in a way the traditional resume cannot.

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Why Is A Cover Letter Necessary?

  • The cover letter allows you to make a good impression on a prospective employer and is an excellent way to show why you are a strong candidate for the job. 
  • It helps to build a connection between you and the organisation by showing how your values, skills and personality align with what they are looking for.
  • It provides an opportunity to explain any potential concerns the recruiter might have about your application and address anything that your resume does not.

How Is a Cover Letter Different from a Resume?

Both a cover letter and a resume aim to illustrate that you have the right skills to excel at the job for which you are applying. However, they are very different in terms of structure and intent. While complementary, they each are unique.

Let’s take a look at the following application for a teaching role. If a principal received this graduate’s resume without a cover letter, he might not consider calling this promising young teacher up. Why?

Student's Resume Sample

He has prior F&B experience e.g. chef, cashier, closing manager.

View Resume PDF

Student's Cover Letter

He articulated why his experience in F&B makes him suitable for a teaching role.

View Cover Letter PDF

The resume alone creates the impression that the student is suited for a restaurant manager position because his key experiences point towards that.

However, the inclusion of the cover letter provides invaluable context that shows the principal how these experiences make the applicant a strong candidate for a teaching role.

It can set him apart from other candidates by telling the employer:

  • how these experiences helped him build skills that are relevant for a teaching role,
  • his commitment towards the teaching profession and,
  • his talent for teaching mathematics.

The cover letter allows him to frame his work experiences to suit the job role.

Differences in Resume and Cover Letter

Resume

 

  • Summary of your education and employment history, and other skills attained
  • Often presented in bullet lists for recruiters to scan through quickly, with headings to highlight experiences
  • More emphasis on quality content in short statements
  • Excludes references to specific people
  • Written in the third person
  • Conveys objective information and states the facts – the who, what, when, and how
    E.g. List of work experiences, volunteering experiences, etc.

 

Cover Letter

 

  • Explains why a select few qualifications match the job position
  • Often presented in a business letter format (three or four paragraphs)
  • More emphasis on quality content in paragraphs
  • Includes references to specific people and positions
  • Written in the first person
  • Conveys subjective information and explains your qualification for the job – the why
    E.g. Providing reasons for your interest in a position, why the culture of a company appeals to you, etc.

 

Writing a good cover letter

Example of a well-written cover letter

An effective cover letter is likely to grab attention from the recruiters and deliver focus on your key skills and experiences. When carefully crafted, a cover letter may land you a chance at interviews even if your resume may be lacking.

Good Cover Letter

Example of a poorly-written cover letter

A poorly written cover letter may do more harm than good, and it may even derail your chance at interviews.

Poor Cover Letter
 

A tailored cover letter should always be included in your application because it allows you to share your unique story and distinguish yourself from other candidates.

02

Tailor your approach by doing research

As with a resume, there is no one-size-fits-all cover letter. It should always be customised specifically to the job and company you are applying to. Prepare effective cover letter content by studying the job description, conducting market research, and curating your cover letter to the needs of the role and organisation.

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Do Your Research

  • Industry Information
    Find out about the economic trends and recent news revolving the industry by searching platforms such as Passport or Factiva.
  • Organisation Information
    Read the publications about the company and look at employee profiles from LinkedIn. Identify the challenges the organisation is facing and how your role would help address those challenges.
  • Culture
    Consider the culture of the organisation you are applying to and adopt their communication style in your tone. If it is a creative agency, such as a design firm, you might be asked to adopt a more creative and casual tone in your cover letter. If it is a more conservative organisation, like a bank or law firm, do use a business tone.

Get more tips on how and where to do your research.

Putting Your Research Together

A good cover letter articulates a great fit between the applicant and the company.

Sample Statement

I read that ABC has recently pledged 2 million dollars annually to charity through pro-bono services, and is encouraging employees to do the same by implementing reward schemes. This commitment would benefit the community invaluably and I am drawn to the opportunity to be part of this positive force.

In the example above, the candidate has used his research on the organisation’s latest news on its corporate social responsibilities to illustrate why he is motivated to take up this role. He has also shown that he has taken the time to understand the organisation by keeping up with the current news.

Therefore, before you begin writing your cover letter, start with doing research on the industry, company, and the role.

 

You only have a few paragraphs to make an impression. Each sentence that you include in your cover letter should be purposeful.

03

Craft an engaging cover letter

The hiring manager’s overall impression of you depends on the coherence and flow of your letter. Ensure your letter meets formatting guidelines and standards. You want your experience to stand out, not your formatting or style choices.

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Anatomy of a Cover Letter

Cover Letter Sample
A
  • B
    Brandon Tan
    Apple Road, S123456
    Mobile: +65 98765432
    Email: brandon@gmail.com
  • C
    26 August 2019
  • D
    Ms Jane Lim, HR Manager
    Human Resource Department
    ABC Healthcare
    90 Orange Road, S654321
  • E
    Dear Ms Lim,
  • F
    Application for position of Management Associate
  • I am a Life Science graduate of the National University of Singapore, and I am writing to apply for the position of a Management Associate in ABC Healthcare. I recently attended the campus recruitment talk by ABC and had the opportunity to speak to Mr John Tan, the H.R. Manager. He shared with me many insights on the role of the Management Associates which intrigued me. I have also read that ABC is expanding its joint venture with XYZ Medicine International, a global leader in oncology, to advance cancer care in Singapore. ABC has exceptional appeal for me because of its vital mission to improving healthcare and reducing illness through research and continuous learning. I am keen on applying the problem-solving, analytical, and communication skills I have honed in my undergraduate studies to contribute to ABC’s growth.

    I have developed strong research and analytical skills from the research projects undertaken during university. I am trained in several microbiology laboratory techniques such as immunoassays and cell cultures. Specifically, the supervisor overseeing my Final Year Research Project wrote a letter of recommendation complimenting me for being a thorough researcher, taking a meticulous and rigorous approach to ensuring experimental accuracy.

    I am comfortable taking up leadership roles, having led 15 committee members of the Life Science Society in the publicity of recruiting 30 new members during the Freshman Orientation week. Nominated to be a Peer Advising Leader for the International Relations Office, I have facilitated activities for more than 200 incoming exchange students from universities around the world.

    I am inspired by ABC’s tireless commitment to providing quality healthcare that is patient-centric, and I am excited to be part of your organisation. I believe that working as a Management Associate in your organisation will allow me to apply my rigorous analytical training to help ABC generate resolutions to advancing our standards of healthcare.

    Thank you for taking the time to review my application. I have enclosed my resume and would greatly appreciate an interview opportunity with ABC to discuss my suitability for the position further. I can be contacted at XX (contact number) or through email at YY (email address).
  • G
    Yours Sincerely,
    Brandon Tan

Content of a Cover Letter

Address and Salutation

Objective: To add a personal touch and to invest the reader in the letter

How?

Address the letter to a named person if possible. You may find the hiring manager’s name via:

  • The company’s website
  • LinkedIn
  • Calling the company to ask about the hiring manager’s name and contact email. Explain that you’re applying for a position and that you would like to address your cover letter to the appropriate party.

How do you address a cover letter if you cannot find the hiring manager’s name?

If so, use a generic salutation such as “Dear Hiring Manager.” Avoid using greetings like “To whom it may concern” or “Dear Sir or Madam”.

Salutation: A basic cover letter salutation will begin with “Dear” followed by the hiring manager’s name.

Opening Paragraph

Objective: To capture the reader’s attention with a clear and concise introduction.

How?

The opening paragraph usually includes:

  1. Brief introduction of yourself and why you are writing
    I am a Life Science graduate of National University of Singapore, and I am writing to apply for the position of a Management Associate in ABC Healthcare.
  2. How did you come to know of this job opening?
    I recently attended the campus recruitment talk by ABC and had the opportunity to speak to Mr. John Tan, the H.R. Manager. He shared with me many insights on the role of the Management Associates which intrigued me.
Body Paragraph 1 (Interest)

Objective: To show your interest and motivation to work in the role and organisation

How?

Explain why you are genuinely interested in the role by showing knowledge in the role/organisation.

I have also read that ABC is expanding its joint venture with XYZ Medicine International, a global leader in oncology, to advance cancer care in Singapore. ABC has exceptional appeal for me because of its vital mission to improving healthcare and reducing illness through research and continuous learning. I am keen in applying the problem-solving, analytical, and communication skills I have honed in my undergraduate studies to contribute to ABC’s growth.

Body Paragraph 2 (Technical Skills)

Objective: To discuss your fit with the position and the company

How?

Assuming you have done the research in *link to Tailor Your Approach*, highlight a technical skill that makes you best suited for the role. You should use relevant examples that demonstrate these skills and use keywords or phrases from the job description that reflect the same.

Use this framework to craft your paragraph:

  1. State the competency that you want to highlight
    I have developed strong research and analytical skills from the research projects undertaken during university…
  2. Explain the situation that demonstrates this skill
    During my final year project, on immunoassays and cell cultures…
  3. Provide specific achievements that show your proficiency (e.g. awards, academic excellence, recommendation)
    The supervisor overseeing my Final Year Research Project wrote a letter of recommendation complimenting me for being a thorough researcher, taking a meticulous and rigorous approach to ensure experimental accuracy.
Body Paragraph 3 (Transferable Skills)

Objective: To discuss your fit with the position and the company

How?

Similar to Body Paragraph 2, highlight a transferable skill that makes you best suited for the role. Some examples of transferable skills are leadership, collaboration, project management and innovative thinking. You may have developed these skills from your project work, co-curricular activities, overseas exchange, and local/global internships.

Use this framework to craft your paragraph:

  1. State the competency that you want to highlight
    I am comfortable taking up leadership roles…
  2. Explain the situation that demonstrates this skill
    In university I have served as Chairman of the Annual Freshman Orientation Camp, Chairman of Temasek Hall students committee and Vice Captain for the NUS Floorball team.
  3. Provide specific achievements that show your proficiency (e.g. awards, academic excellence, recommendation)
    This led to an achievement I take great pride in my nomination for a Student Life Award for Outstanding Contribution to Campus Culture. I believe that everyone can be a leader and shape the culture and community around them for the better.
Closing Paragraph

Objective: To have a strong close

How?

Summarise with polite assertiveness, without sounding pushy or cliché:

  1. Personal statement/How you can contribute to the organisation
    I am inspired by ABC’s tireless commitment to provide quality healthcare that is patient-centric, and I am excited to be part of your organisation. I believe that working as a Management Associate in your organisation will allow me to apply my rigorous analytical training to help ABC generate resolutions to advancing our standards of healthcare.
  2. Thank the recruiter and express your interest in meeting him/her
    Thank you for taking the time to review my application. I have enclosed my resume and would greatly appreciate an interview opportunity with ABC to further discuss my suitability for the position.
  3. Indicate your contact details
    I can be contacted at XX (contact number) or through email at YY (email address).
 

Distinguish your cover letter by using different ways to illustrate your examples – e.g. key achievements, statistics, etc. Taking into consideration the tone and culture of the organisation is very important as well.

04

Polish and submit

Finally, be sure to thoroughly proofread your cover letter. Typos and grammatical errors will demonstrate a sloppy work ethic to the employer. Even the smallest error can work against you during the job application process, so take the time to get it right. 

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Do’s and Don'ts of Cover Letter

Do's

  • Be meticulous in taking the time to carefully research and tailor different cover letters
  • Address your letter to a named individual
  • Limit your letter to one page
  • Use transitional words and phrases to help your ideas flow together more easily
  • Check your spelling and grammar using tools like SpellCheck and Grammarly
  • Take a break after writing and come back with a fresh pair of eyes
  • Re-look at the document. Does it flow? Is it engaging?
  • Proofread thoroughly before submitting
  • Save in PDF format

 

Don'ts

  • Repeat your resume
  • Send a generic cover letter
  • Copy and paste information blatantly from the company’s website
  • Have grammatical errors
  • Use jargons, acronyms, and complicated sentence structures
  • Use trite statements about why you want to join the organisation e.g. “I want to join ABC as it is a top 100 global organisation” etc.
  • Overuse the word “I”
  • Use smileys and exclamation marks

 

Get inspiration with writing cover letter

References