What Is a Cover Letter? Benefits and Dos & Don'ts for Job Applications

What Is a Cover Letter? Benefits and Dos & Don'ts for Job Applications
Jobstreet content teamupdated on 25 May, 2022

Job hunting tends to be quite an ordeal for everyone, from fresh graduates to seasoned professionals. For starters, searching for jobs that you qualify for can take days or weeks. Then, it can be stressful to jazz up your resume, put together a job application checklist, prepare for interviews, and follow up with hirers. Many also find writing a cover letter one of the most challenging aspects of the process. This is often the case, especially for fresh graduates who are most likely wondering what is a cover letter for a job application.

While many things have changed in the job search process, the cover letter remains useful in marketing yourself to potential employers. As such, understanding the importance of a cover letter, wherever you are in your career, will still help you stand out in a very competitive job market. So, if you need help writing an effective cover letter to go with your applications, here are some quick cover letter pointers and tips to keep in mind.

What is a cover letter for job application?

In a nutshell, it gives an overview of your qualifications, skills, and work experience that are relevant to the role you are applying for. A single-paged text document for this would suffice. It serves as an invitation for potential employers to consider you and the value you can bring to the company. As such, a well-written, professional, and error-free cover letter will complement your resume nicely.

While the resume or curriculum vitae (CV) is the most important part of job applications in Malaysia, cover letters are still widely used to extend the CV. Some companies actually require a cover letter, either to be sent with the resume or to be handed during the interview. In some cases, it is also acceptable to have your cover letter written in Malay, especially if the role requires fluency in the language.

The importance of cover letters

We already briefly mentioned what makes the cover letter an important part of job hunting. Now, let us go into the specifics below to address any possible questions you may have about what is a cover letter for job application.

It creates a great first impression on a potential employer.

Put yourself in the shoes of a hiring manager who receives an application via email with nothing but a resume. You would be left wondering, who is this person? What is their background? Why are they applying to this position? Why should I hire them?

Therefore, the cover letter serves as a great introduction to a potential employer. Think of it as your chance to make a good impression. It shows that you took the time to properly give an overview of yourself as a potential candidate, and that you respect the time they spent on screening your application.

Cover letter is more personal, while the resume is mostly objective.

In addition to the point above, the cover letter puts a nice, personal touch on your job application. It gives you the opportunity to share your background and story with the hirer and employer even before the interview. If someone referred you to the role, this is also a good chance to mention it. It also allows you to start building a relationship with the employer by giving an idea of your personality and interests. This allows hiring managers to gauge early on if you are a good fit not only for the role, but also for the company culture.

It shows that your skills are aligned with the role.

Sure, employers can just take a look at your resume to learn about your skills, competencies, work experience, training, and many others. That may or may be enough for them to decide to invite you for an interview. However, as mentioned above, if you send your application through email, you are expected to have a cover letter along with your resume. That way, it will be easier for hiring managers to get an idea if you are indeed qualified for the role.

It shows your interest in the role.

When writing a cover letter, one of your goals is to express your interest in the role you are applying to. You should indicate what you found appealing about the job, especially in terms of your skills and career goals. You can also mention something about what got you interested in the company and the opportunity to contribute to its growth.

It demonstrates how you communicate.

The cover letter is also a preview of your writing and communication skills. You can be sure that employers will pay attention to your choice of words, ideas, and objectives. The cover letter is also typically the first thing they read when you send your applications through email, especially when used as the body or message text.

However, your cover letter should be as concise, clear, and professional as possible. Employers sift through dozens of applications per day, so it would be best if you keep it short but meaningful and direct. So, make sure that it is free of typos, spelling, or grammar errors before you send it out for your application.

Quick cover letter dos and don’ts

Now that you have a better understanding of what is a cover letter for a job application and its importance, let’s cover some dos and don’ts. These will help you craft an excellent document or polish it if you already have one.


Research the company first.

Learning as much as you can about the employer will serve as the foundation of your draft. It will allow you to weave in details about the company, role, or department into your cover letter. Likewise, it will give you an idea about the company’s voice, which you should also definitely use when writing your draft. Both of these will show the hirer or employer that you did your homework.

Read the job description.

You will need to refer to the job description for the requirements of the role. Not only will it help you determine if you are qualified, but it will also allow you to take note of what to highlight in your cover letter. Keep an eye out for keywords and phrases that are mentioned repeatedly in the job description and incorporate them into your resume. This will give you the best chance of passing in case your application is run through an automated screening process.

Address your cover letter to the hiring manager.

If you already know their name, make sure to address your letter to them directly. If someone referred you to the role or company, ask them the name of the hiring manager so you can address your letter to the right person.

Briefly explain why you are a good fit for the role you are applying for.

Since it should be no more than a single page text document, keep your cover letter between 250 - 450 words long, or four to five short paragraphs.

As a rule of thumb, make the first paragraph about how you learned about the job posting and why you are interested in applying. The second and third paragraphs should highlight your skills and achievements, related work experience, and personal qualities that make you a great fit for the position. Close the last paragraph with a request for an interview, and include important contact details through which the hirer or employer can reach you. Don’t forget to thank them for their time and for considering your application.


Repeat everything in your resume.

Instead, use the cover letter to focus on the meaty parts of your resume. Many hiring managers find it a waste of time to scan through documents with the exact same information. The goal is to get the hirer or employer to take a look at your resume to find out more about you.

Start with generic and outdated salutations.

Opening your letter with “To Whom It May Concern” and the likes is not only awkward or off-putting to hiring managers. It also gives the impression that you did not bother to customise your cover letter or have been sending generic applications. If you can’t find the name of the hiring manager, you can simply write “Dear Hiring Manager”, or refer to their position or department.

Brag or beg.

Making it all about yourself is never a good look. While you should definitely showcase your skills, work experience, and best qualities, be careful of sounding like you are bragging. Market your skills and competencies without overdoing it. Likewise, avoid adding statements that may hint like you are desperate or begging for the job.

Make it too personal.

While your cover letter should give an idea about your personality, employers do not need to know about the nitty gritty of your life. So, avoid mentioning unnecessary details like strange hobbies, financial troubles, or relocation woes. Otherwise, they may have the impression that you do not know what is inappropriate to discuss in a professional setting.

Forget to proofread and thoroughly check for errors.

Be mindful of typos, misspellings, and grammar errors before sending it out. Double check the name and job title of the hiring manager. Also, make sure that you customise your cover letter for each company or role that you apply to. Never send an unedited cover letter!

These are just some of the valuable tips to keep in mind when writing your cover letter. Understanding the role of the cover letter and how to use it to your advantage will increase your chances of successful job applications. It may seem intimidating at first, but with enough practice, you should be able to craft the best cover letter that works for you!

Ready to write a stand out cover letter? #LetsGetToWork and create or update your JobStreet profile today. Lastly, check out the Career Resources Hub as well for more tips on job searching, self-improvement, and career advancement!

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