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Three steps to a killer cover letter

By EthicalJobs.com.au founder Michael Cebon

Last week I pointed out some of the easy but potentially disastrous mistakes people can make in applying for that dream ethical job. Now that you know what not to do, this week I thought I’d follow up with some tips on how to make your application stand out from the crowd.

It’s a cliche, but no less true for that: You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. Your cover letter is your first impression, the first thing a potential employer will find out about you.

Your cover letter isn’t a summary of your CV – it’s the entrée to your CV, the appetiser. If a cover letter doesn’t grab me in the first ten seconds, it’s unlikely I’ll spend very long reading your CV. On the other hand, a good cover letter will make me focus tremendously on the accompanying CV, and give you a much better chance at scoring an interview.

Here’s three ways to make your cover letter stand out from the crowd:

Make it short and sweet

A cover letter should never be more than 1 A4 page. Ever.

But saying that is NOT an invitation to shrink down your text to 8 point font, and decrease your page margins to almost zero so you can fit two or three pages of text onto one.

Think of things from your reader’s perspective: no one wants to read a full page of densely packed text, written in tiny font with no white space!

A good cover letter is short – in fact the shorter the better.  If you can introduce yourself in half a page rather than a page – or in 10 sentences rather than 20 – that makes the letter easier and much more pleasant to read.

Show your personality

If I’m reading 50 or 100 cover letters, yours needs to stand out from the pack.

The easiest way to do this is inject your personality as much as you can. Who are you? Why are you interested in the role? How have your education, your personal history or circumstances, your family or friends led you to this particular role? For ads on EthicalJobs.com.au specially, how do your values relate to the role?

Your cover letter should leave the reader knowing something about who you are, not just what you studied and where you’ve worked.

Make it specific to the job, not generic

It’s usually easy to spot a generic cover letter that’s been written so it can be used to apply for any number of different roles. My usual reaction is to move straight on to the next application.

The best cover letters are written with a specific role at a specific organisation in mind, and they show that the applicant is truly interested in this job, not just any job.

While it’s important to talk about yourself, don’t forget to talk about both the organisation you’re applying to, and the role itself, and what has attracted you to them.

And remember to address your letter to the right person (not sir/madam!).

An Example

Here’s one of the best cover letters I’ve ever received. While the applicant didn’t get the job, her CV got more attention than almost anyone else who applied:

Dear Michael,


Firstly I would like to say what a fantastic website you run. It’s a brilliant concept and I have a number of my friends and colleagues from the not-for-profit sector who currently use your site.


My husband also found his new role on EthicalJobs.com.au


My name is ****. I have a strong advertising and recruitment background. I worked for the [company] for 6 years running the [department].


I recently did work for [a government department], project managing the re-branding of their recruitment website.


I have moved away from the corporate sector to seek work in line with my personal ethics and values. A part-time role like yours also suits as I have an 8-year-old daughter and I’m studying [subject].


I would love to get up in the morning and look forward to coming to work.


Michael, I am really good at what I do. I have a strong work ethic. I am a creative thinker and I would love to be a part of your team.


I look forward to hearing from you,


Kind Regards




Note that this letter is:

  • Short
  • Simple
  • Personal
  • Addresses both the organisation and the role

So much conveyed in so few words!

Every cover letter should be different – there’s no recipe for success. But perhaps these tips will bring you that little bit closer.

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