How to write a cover letter that makes recruiters smile (and then call you)

5 minute read

Cover letters are often considered as the bane of every job seekers existence. You’ve spent countless hours editing your CV, read every bit of interview advice that Google has to offer, and now there’s more work to do! Despite this feeling, it is possible to stand out from the noise and show recruiters exactly why you’re the right person for the job.

If you’re looking for a way to overcome your cover letter woes, we’ve put together a comprehensive set of tips to help you produce the cover letter that does more than catches a recruiter’s eye. Follow these steps, and you’ll be remembered for all the right reasons… and receive a few phone calls.

Get the headline right

Many of your cover letters will be delivered by email. This means that you have an additional factor to your advantage.

The headline.

Start by paying attention to headlines that make you open emails, read newspaper stories and anything that you forward to friends. Your headline should spark curiosity so that a recruiter is intrigued before they have even read your cover letter. A headline can tell them whether it is worth reading or deleting.

Tip: Keep your headline to 50 characters or less; include the job title and your name so that recruiters know exactly what role you’re referring to (the less work they have to do, the better).


Connect with their mission

Cover letters shouldn’t be generic – you must use this opportunity to explain why you’re the one and only person that they should consider for the position. If you are familiar with the organisation’s work, ask yourself: what campaigns really struck a chord with you? Are their values aligned with your own? The clearer this is, the more powerful your cover letter is. Passion, especially in the charity & not-for-profit sector, is equally as important as experience. Don’t just regurgitate all of the information that is on your CV. Recruiters want to know that you have the potential to be the right fit as well as produce quality work.

Mention any voluntary experience you’ve done in the past and how this has influenced your career progression within your field. Hiring managers want to know that you are genuinely interested in the industry (and feel confident that you can contribute to it!).

Tip: Directly address the person that has listed the vacancy. Most websites and job boards will include the name of the person that you’ll be contacting – look out for this and make sure that you start your cover letter with ‘Dear Ms. Smith’ instead of ‘Dear Sir/Madam’. Attention to detail is everything.

#CoverLetter tip: Connect with the mission statement - passion is equally as important as experience

Click to Tweet

Outline what you can deliver

Anyone can list what they’ve done. But people who have actually performed, will state how their actions have contributed to an organizations’ success. For example, an event manager could state that they have ‘organized and run 10 company events in 2015’. On the face of it, this is pretty impressive (running 10 events is no picnic!), but it doesn’t actually tell a recruiter anything about your contribution. A candidate that has delivered a result will say, ‘I successfully organized and ran 10 events in 2015. The registration and turn-out rate increased from 65% on my arrival to 89% by the end of the year leading to and increased ROI’. Tell recruiters what you have achieved so that they know why you could be a great addition to their team.

Tip: Share the most impressive contribution that you have made, something that says that you use your initiative to take action.



Name Drop

Now I know what you’re thinking… this goes against almost everything that you’ve been told! But, there’s a method to the madness. Mentioning the names of people that you know within the organisation gives recruiters a reference point to go to. If your skills and experience fit the job description, they can pick their colleagues brain about your application. This information is coming from a familiar and trusted source, making it much more reliable.

So, don’t be afraid to mention who you know. You never know what this could lead to.

If you don’t know anyone that currently works at the organisation, turn to LinkedIn. Search for the people that you’re likely to be interviewed by (or possibly work with) and understand the role that they play. The more that you know, the easier it will be to direct the tone of your cover letter and the information shared.

Tip: Don’t over-do it. One name is more than enough and this person should also be a relevant contact. For example, if you’re applying for a Fundraising role, and you refer to an Event Planner in the organization, that relationship can correlate to your previous work. In this instance, mentioning someone in IT or Finance  may not be very beneficial…

Keep it short & sweet

Recruiters have to sift through large numbers of cover letters and CVs on a daily basis. Don’t make this any more difficult for them by writing a lengthy cover letter. Stick to the one-page rule. Chances are, if your cover letter is any longer, you have either shared information that is already in your CV or gone into too much detail. You must have something to talk about if you’re invited in for an interview, so hold back a little!

Tip: remember that people scan first and read later. Divide your cover letter into 3-4 concise paragraphs, use bullet points where necessary and make sure that there’s plenty of white space. Recruiters are incredibly busy; don’t turn them off by presenting them with a short essay! The easier it is for them, the better.

[clickToTweet tweet=”#CoverLetter tip: Keep it short & sweet – people scan first & read later” quote=”Keep it short and sweet. People will always scan first and read later!”]


Double check grammar and spelling

You’re human and mistakes do happen. But given that this is a future employer, now isn’t the time for incorrect spelling or grammatical errors (especially with the wonder of technology!). It’s easy to overlook mistakes when you have been staring at the same page for a few hours so ask a friend to proof-read your cover letter before sending it off. A second pair of eyes can be a blessing!

Tip: If spelling and grammar aren’t your strong points, invest in a tool like Grammarly. This neat tool highlights your mistakes and explains why it needs to be changed.


Be memorable: The sign off

This is your last chance to leave the right impression. So, go out with a bang! Don’t write a ‘one size fits all’ sign off. Recruiters can spot this easily and it could undo all of your great work. This can still be short and sweet but make sure that it ties in with how you can contribute to the organisations purpose.

Tip: Last impressions also count. Make sure you put as much effort into the sign off as you did the introduction. Tired of staring at the same page? Take a break. Leave your letter alone for a few hours (or even a day) and come back with a fresh perspective.

Want to test these tips? Take a look at all of the opportunities that CharityJob has to offer here.


Jade Phillips

Marketing Manager at CharityJob. A true bookworm and social media geek, you'll find me living in pockets of online communities. Unattended snacks might go missing if left around me...

Don't miss another post, sign up to our weekly newsletter

Thank you for subscribing, you're on the list for the next edition!