Why Bother to Write a Cover Letter?

Close range cover letter

Students often ask whether they should bother with writing a cover letter. I recently put that question to 15 employers as part of a survey and found six of them read a candidate’s cover letter before they read their CV – yep before! Only two employers considered a cover letter optional. So the short answer - yes, it is worthwhile.

A cover letter is a great way to consolidate and write down your understanding of how your skills and values fit the role, and your motivation for applying for the role. However, employers say that graduate cover letters must be succinct - no longer than a page. Consider it your written elevator pitch!

Here’s what some of the surveyed employers have to say about cover letters.

Strong first impression

A cover letter is a great way to make a strong first impression, says Dentons Kensington Swan Senior HR Advisor Tash Archipow McLean.

“Cover letters are a way for recruiters to get a feel for the candidate’s personality. Tell us your story about why you’re studying law and want a career in the industry. It’s also nice to know if there’s anything you do outside of work and study that aligns with your aspirations in law. You should also be specific about why you want to work at Dentons Kensington Swan because it is obvious when candidates haven’t done their research or are using the same letter to apply to many firms,” says Tash.

Auckland Council Talent Acquisition Consultant Sonam Kumar sees the CV and cover letter combo as similar to a passport and CV. Your cover letter tells the story of your travels and your CV provides proof of your activities. It also is your opportunity to stand out.

“The cover letter is where we can find your point of difference from other graduates. Tell us why you did your degree and why you want to apply for a role with us?”

Prove your relevance Question mark within a maze

Spacetime Managing Director Alex Bartley Catt wants to see if you can show your relevancy to the company and the role.

“I read good cover letters and the ones I rank highest are those that reflect that they know what we do… that show they’re excited about working for us because of the work we do. This shows you’ve gone onto our website and put two and two together and are able to tell us what you have to offer and how you could add value.”

Counties Manakau DHB Pacific Health Equity Manager Va Lutui says she wants to get a feel for you – the person - through your cover letter.

“Tell us about yourself and your values. It makes a big difference to your application.”

Convince us

Madison Pine who helps recruit for the summer studentship programme at the Auckland War Memorial Museum says she always reads the cover letter first, viewing it as your introduction to her.

“A well written cover letter will convince me to invite you to an interview over your CV. You must show a good understanding of the job description so read it carefully and reflect that in your cover letter.”

RUSH Digital talent and culture partner Rivers Rainey always reads a CV before a cover letter, but he still pays attention to the cover letter.

“A good cover letter can sway me to interview someone even if their CV isn’t as strong as some of the others. The best letters talk about transferable skills – maybe it is like something you’ve already done or studied.

It is also a good place to talk about your career objectives. I’m keen on this programming role because I want to do xxx in future, like move into project management, or something like that. That is super valuable to us.”

In summary – when you write a cover letter make sure you:

  • Tailor it to the job. Show why you’re interested in the role and how you see your skills matching, including transferable skills
  • Align with the organisation’s values in some way
  • Highlight specific skills that the organisation is asking for
  • Do not repeat your CV. It must be fresh and different
  • Pay attention to detail, including a spell check
  • Use business letter format. It shows you’re making an effort.
  • Address your letter to the right organisation. A cover letter addressed to a competitor is not a good look!
  • Keep succinct - no longer than a page

Need help to write a cover letter?

Our wonderful Employability and Careers team can help you with your cover letter (and CV, job search skills, LinkedIn profile, interview practice etc). We offer workshops and one-on-one appointments in person or on Zoom.

To make a booking, simply sign into Elab Online, our online portal, using your AUT student  name and password. Then look for  Workshops or Appointments under Events. You can also pop into the Employability Lab on city campus at WA202, or look out for an employability specialist at the Student Hub on North and South campuses.

AUT E Lab 3

Written by AUT Employability and Careers writer Angela McCarthy