The cover letter is the first document the hiring manager will see in your application. It is particularly important for career starters and career changers, as it provides an opportunity to justify the choice of career path and change of industry. The cover letter can thus be a decisive advantage in your application strategy.
It is important to note that the cover letter should not exceed one A4 page. Your main focus should be on your motivation for the advertised position, relevant soft and hard skills and possible unique characteristics. Avoid unnecessary repetition of information that is already on your resume. Instead, focus on the value you can add to the business.
How to write a letter of application?
- The cover letter should clarify the position you are applying for, emphasize your motivation to work for the company in question, and explain why you in particular are the ideal choice for the position.
- It is important to note that the cover letter is not merely a summary of your resume. Rather, it should make a connection between the requirements stated in the job ad and your personal skills.
- The typical length of a cover letter corresponds to one DIN A4 page. For a professional presentation of your cover letter, the layout should be consistent. Recommended fonts are Arial, Helvetica, Calibri or similar, with a font size of 10 to 12 points.
- Depending on the field of activity in which you are applying, it is important to highlight the relevant skills. The terms cover letter, letter of motivation and the English term cover letter or letter of motivation are often used interchangeably, although their contents may differ slightly.
How to design your cover letter
Regardless of whether you call it a cover letter, a motivation letter, or a letter of application, the structure is similar in each case. The optimal length for your cover letter is one DIN A4 page, two pages should not be exceeded under any circumstances. While you can be more creative with the resume, there are certain standards for the cover letter regarding layout and outline.
To give you a clearer idea of the structure of the cover letter, we have created a sample and presented the essential elements:
Subject line and salutation in your cover letter
Every cover letter starts with a subject line. It serves to highlight the core of your application and is usually the only part of the text that is printed in bold. It was common to start the sentence with the word “Subject”, but this trend has now changed. In the subject line of your cover letter, you should indicate only the specific position for which you are applying, with the reference number if applicable. For example:
- Application for the role of IT Project Manager, ref. no. 9876-5432
- Unsolicited application for an internship abroad in the field of marketing/communication
The subject line is followed by the salutation. Here it is important that you address a specific person, if possible. Many job ads already specify a contact person, usually someone from the HR department. If no name is mentioned in the job advertisement, you can usually find the information you need on the company website or ask for it by phone. If, despite all your efforts, you are unable to find a specific contact person, you can resort to the general form of address “Dear Sir or Madam” as a last resort. However, this should really be the very last resort!
In formal letters, including the cover letter, "you" and "your" are always capitalized!
The introduction of your cover letter
In the introduction it is not necessary to repeat the subject again. The point here now is to stand out and generate interest.
Your introduction should be no longer than three to four lines. Don’t worry, you don’t have to write a novel here or be the most creative person in the world. But avoid at all costs those hackneyed phrases like “I hereby apply for the position of …” or “I read your job advertisement with great enthusiasm …”. Such phrases are simply boring and show little initiative. Also, avoid using quotes or sayings from famous poets or thinkers – these tend to be out of place in an application.
Instead, you should try to individualize your first sentence by directly addressing your qualifications from your studies, work experience, or internships. Here are some examples:
“Through my master’s thesis in Artificial Intelligence at ABC University, I have gained in-depth knowledge of Python and machine learning, which I would like to bring to the Data Scientist position at your company.”
“As the project manager for my university’s annual benefit concert, I was able to demonstrate my leadership and organizational skills. I will use these skills successfully in the role of event manager at XYZ.”
“My fascination with innovation and technical challenges drives me as an engineer. With my work on numerous research projects during my studies, I look forward to contributing my knowledge and skills to your renowned development department. “It can also be useful to start with a relevant question that fits the position and the industry. For example, you might ask, “You’re looking for someone who has an interest in working with people as well as experience in staff development, right?”
Another good place to start might be to refer to a phone conversation you had previously with recruiters. This seems very personal and shows that you have already shown interest and initiative.
Depending on the industry and position, the tone may vary. For a job in the financial sector, the cover letter should be a little more formal, while a job in marketing requires a slightly more creative approach. In any case, the first sentence should be individual, to immediately catch the eye.
Main part: Here you score with soft skills and your motivation
Continue with the main body of your cover letter. Here you explain in detail why you are the perfect candidate for the job. Emphasize both your hard skills (such as experience with certain software tools or language skills) and your soft skills (such as teamwork, analytical thinking, or assertiveness). Don’t forget to cite specific examples to back up your skills.
Professional competencies (hard skills)
Choose from these aspects and write a point for each requirement that supports it with your own experience and acquired skills. Example:
- “Proficient with Microsoft Office” = office work in a start-up.
- “Knowledge of the Python programming language” = final project in the computer science program.
- “Project management experience” = role as a project manager in a non-profit organization.
You can then describe these aspects in more detail in your cover letter: “While working in a start-up, I was able to expand my knowledge of Microsoft Office, especially Excel. Through my final project in computer science studies, I was also able to intensively apply and deepen my Python knowledge. In addition, I was able to gain valuable experience in project management as a project manager in a non-profit organization.”
Personal competencies (soft skills)
In addition, personal skills are often required in the job advertisement. You should also go through this point by point and support it with longer stays abroad (studies, internship, work & travel), volunteer work, awards, hobbies, special talents and extraordinary experiences. Example:
- “Conflict resolution skills” = mediator role in a volunteer setting.
- “Self-organization” = planning and conducting an independent undergraduate research project.
- “Creativity” = participation in an artistic workshop or course.
HR managers often see a mere list of competencies as a standard formulation. However, if you link your personal skills to specific activities in your cover letter, your self-presentation will look more authentic. In this way you can arouse the interest of personnel managers and at the same time create starting points for the job interview.
The last paragraph – space for details
The last paragraph provides additional information, such as the earliest possible start date or your desired salary, if this is required in the job advertisement. Here you can also indicate that you are looking forward to a personal interview – but avoid rather shy phrases such as “I would be happy to hear from you”. Instead, you could write, for example, “I look forward to the opportunity to convince you of my skills and motivation for the job as a software developer in a personal interview in Stuttgart.”
Finally, there is the obligatory greeting “Sincerely yours” followed by your full name or signature.
Signatures should always be made in blue or black ink.
Last but not least – signature
Your cover letter ends with your signature between the greeting “Sincerely yours” and your typed name (first and last name). While a signature is not mandatory for an electronic application, it looks more complete and professional for an email application or online application if you scan your signature for the cover letter and insert it between the greeting forms and the typed name. Avoid signing with felt-tip pens, pencils, fineliners and the like, and instead use only a ballpoint pen or fountain pen.
Signatures are made only with blue or black ink.
in the cover letter?
The postscript, or PS for short, is used to append something to a text that does not quite fit the body of the text in terms of content, for example. It is very short; the PS is one or two sentences long at most and is rarely used these days. While a PS is very rarely used in a cover letter, that doesn’t mean you should never use it. Because while a cover letter may be skimmed by recruiters, a PS is always read.
One PS finally catches the eye. If you decide to use a PS in your cover letter, the most important thing is to use a professional and relevant sentence.
A statement such as “PS: I’m not sure my credentials are all necessary, I’ve attached them all anyway” would be completely inappropriate. It makes you look unprepared and unsure of yourself, which is something you want to avoid in your cover letter.
Instead, you can use your PS in a creative context to stand out from other candidates. For example, you could write, “PS: You want a candidate who is skilled in complex databases? Please check out my GitHub projects at ‘example123’.” This will add relevant and memorable information to your cover letter that will highlight your technical knowledge.
such as, “PS: You can reach me in the evenings or on weekends on 0123 456 78 9” can go over well with recruiters. Whether or not you ultimately choose a PS should depend on the company and the position you are applying for.
For example, if you are applying for a job in consulting at a traditional company, a PS is probably not appropriate. Also, you should note that your signature belongs in front of the PS, otherwise it wouldn’t be a PS after all. PS: The PS is only written in English with a dot after the letters (P.S.), if you write your cover letter in German, you only have to add a colon (PS:).
Formal requirements – perfection down to the last detail
It is crucial to take enough time to write your cover letter. In addition, you should pay attention to the following formal requirements:
- Paper: Use high quality paper (100 grams instead of 80 grams) that is free of stains and creases.
- Fonts: Avoid fancy fonts. Instead, fall back on classic fonts like Helvetica, Verdana, Times, or Georgia.
- Font size: Choose a reader-friendly font size. As a guideline, you can use the 11-13-15 rule: 11-point for body text, 13-point for subheadings, and 15-point for your name, headings, or subject line.
- Formatting: Make sure indents, lines, and line spacing are consistent. Avoid excessive use of boldface or italics.
- Formulations: Avoid complicated sentence structures and keep your wording concise.
- Individuality: Each application should be unique and not copied from a template. Show motivation and interest by customizing your application.
In traditional industries, you should follow DIN 5008 for business letters. Because a cover letter is basically a business letter!
Conclusion – Take advantage of your opportunities!
Although the need for a cover letter is sometimes doubted, we believe it is still an essential part of any job application. It gives you a chance to stand out from other applicants and highlight your suitability for the job. Take this opportunity to create a compelling cover letter that will make your application a success!
Application Letter Sample Free Download
Do you have trouble finding concise wording for your cover letter? Then you can benefit from our free cover letter templates provided for your application. They contain sample texts for various professional fields. Here we offer a selection for free download.
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