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Building the four paragraphs

This article provides concrete tips on how to build a cover letter using four powerful paragraphs, as well as an effective closing.
© Luleå University of Technology

First paragraph

Schematic of the four paragraphs, showing text only for the first: 1. Introduce yourself, tell of shared values. In the first paragraph you want to introduce yourself and tell of shared values between you and the company. For example, if the company states that they value sustainable solutions and that is something that you also believe to be important, then be sure to include that as you introduce yourself.

Here it is important to:

  • Show your passion and motivation
  • Create interest using storytelling
  • Tell of shared values

The goal of the first paragraph is to introduce yourself and tell of shared values you have with the company. When you share values or have some other type of connection to the company, you are more likely to fit into a company’s corporate culture, enjoy working there and thus remain employed longer.

Don’t start your letter with “Hi, my name is [your name] and I am [xx] years old.” The reader already knows your name because it appears at the top of the page and your age has nothing to do with how capable you are of performing at a job. Since you have included a reference line that include the name of the position, it’s not necessary to explain what position you’re applying for in the first paragraph either.

Instead, use storytelling to create interest and show why you are attracted to the position and the company as well as what you can contribute. The first paragraph is your “hook” to get them excited and interested in you. You want to hook the reader’s attention and start to have them visualise you working in the position.

Companies like to hire people they “know”. If it’s possible, mention a mutual contact who can vouch for your competence. If you have met a representative from the company at a job fair you may want to mention that person’s name in the first paragraph as well, especially if that person seemed interested in you and your skills.

Resist the temptation to tell an employer that this position is your “dream job”. This may sound harsh, but companies don’t exist to provide workers with their dream jobs. Not only that, but they will feel that you only care about yourself and not their company if you tell them this is your dream job. Write with the attitude of how you can help their company, not “what’s in it for me”. Be sure to tell how your skills and experience could contribute to the position or to their company.

Second paragraph

Schematic of the four paragraphs, now with text also for the second paragraph 2. Education, work experience The second paragraph is all about your hard skills. Hard skills are are learned skills, gained through your:

  • Education
  • Previous work experience

Be sure to tell how your education and work experience are relevant to the job to which you are applying. Give clear examples that prove that you can do what you say you can do.

Limit your examples to 2 or 3. You don’t have enough space to tell the reader everything, so make sure that you give the best examples that illustrate your skills that specifically relate to the job you are seeking.

Don’t simply repeat text from your CV. Instead, reword and expand upon your tasks and responsibilities. Put them into context for the reader so that they understand what you accomplished and how you affected the company.

You should refer to the keywords from the job ad, but don’t copy them word-for-word. If the job ad says they are looking for someone who is creative with strong social skills. Don’t simply write “I am creative and have strong social skills.” Instead, give examples of your creativity; give examples of how your social skills have benefited a prior workplace. Think of different ways to show the reader you can do the job they are expecting you to do.

Third paragraph

Schematic of the four paragraphs, now with text also for the third paragraph: 3. Professional qualities, unique selling points. In the third paragraph, tell about your soft skills. These are the personal attributes that enable you to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people. You have been developing these skills throughout your entire life.

Some examples of soft skills you might include are:

  • Work ethic
  • Leadership skills
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Communication skills
  • Time-management skills
  • Language & intercultural skills
  • How you approach various challenges

The easiest and clearest way to give good examples here is to make a statement and support it with an example. Essentially, you first tell what skill you have and then how you gained said skill. Here are some examples of how this might be formulated:

“I have strong organisation skills. I have previously worked in a daycare where I was in charge of arranging activities for 10 children between the ages of 2 and 5.”
“I have strong leadership skills. In the past, I worked as a swim instructor for adults and teenagers. At university, I often take the leadership role in group work.”
“I have both intercultural and language experience. I was an exchange student in Spain for one semester and I travel every chance I get. I can speak 3 languages.”
Hobbies can be included, but make sure to keep it professional and think twice about how you choose to word it. Here are two examples, one less professional and one more professional.
“In my spare time I like to ski, watch movies, eat good food, and hang out with my friends.”
VS
“As a former competitive down-hill skier, I know the value of hard work, setting goals and time management.”
As you can tell, the second one is more professional. If you have a hobby that is in some way related to the type of work you are applying to, it is fine to include it as long as you write it in a professional manner and focus on how it has given you skills.
Here is another example of a hobby that can be included professionally in a cover letter:
“Over the past 5 years, I have developed my photography skills which I see as beneficial to the role.”

Fourth paragraph and closing

Schematic of the four paragraphs, now with text also for the fourth paragraph: 4. Thank you, ask for interview. The final paragraph is where you:

  • Thank the recruiter
  • Repeat that you are a good candidate
  • Include the name of the position again to highlight which particular job you are seeking
  • Ask for an interview

Recruiting costs a company a lot of time and money, which is why it is a good idea to thank the reader for taking the time out of their busy schedule to read your application. The reader may have 50–100 applications to read on top of their normal 40 hour/week workload, so it’s a very nice gesture to, at the very least, thank them for their time.

The final sentence should be a “call-to-action”, which asks the recruiter to contact you for an interview so that you can tell more about how you can contribute to the position.

For the closing phrase, good choices are “Best regards,” or “Kind regards,”. Adding a signature shows that you pay attention to detail and communicates that you took your time when writing the letter to make it unique.

© Luleå University of Technology
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