The Dos and Don’ts of writing a successful cover letter

A cover letter can be as important as your CV, so here’s how to upgrade yours from good to, “wow, we need this person!”

Heidi Yeung |

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Whether it’s for a university programme or internship, your cover letter is what convinces the person reading it to give you an interview. It tells why you’re perfect for the role. Consider it a stepping stone to your goal. But there is an art to writing a good one that goes beyond: “Hi, my name is so-and-so and I’m interested in this-and-that.”

Here are some pointers on writing a killer cover letter from those who read hundreds of them regularly: a partner at a local boutique law firm, a leading investment broker at a major bank, and an assistant lecturer at the Journalism and Media Studies Centre of the University of Hong Kong.


Try to inject a little of your style into your cover letter. Don’t border it with kittens and unicorns, but write in a way that reflects your personality.

Make an effort to personalise the cover letter you’re writing to suit the role you’re applying to. For example, “I wish to study history at HKU because as a global citizen interested in international relations, I believe there are many lessons to be learned from history.” Or if you’re applying for an internship at a video game company, demonstrate your gaming knowledge. It shows that you researched what you’re applying for and that you are interested.

Proofread! Get someone else to proofread for you too if you can. Silly typos make you look like you don’t even care.

Include your plans for if you’re accepted. Don’t write it in a way that sounds like you have it in the bag, but convey how you would grow and gain from the opportunity should you be offered a space on the programme or the role.

Describe how you feel you can contribute to what you’re applying for – without sounding arrogant: “Having been a public speaker on my school’s team for years, I feel confident I will be comfortable contributing ideas and collaborating on a team.”

Construct your letter to be as clear and succinct as possible. Don’t fall into the trap of writing in long, elaborate sentences just to fill up space and make your cover letter longer.


Talk about your passions if they’re not relevant to what you’re applying for. Your love of anime doesn’t help when applying to a summer internship at a law firm.

Type your cover letter directly into the body of your email when applying for a post. A super long initial email is a little off-putting. Instead, be courteous but concise: give a brief summary of what you’re applying for, your key qualifications for the job, what documents you’ve attached (which will include your cover letter), and sign off saying that you look forward to the opportunity to further discuss your application. Read: interview.

Oversell or exaggerate yourself. Make sure to empahsise your strengths, but don’t stray from the factual truth. If you’re applying for a junior position, no one will expect you to have experience handling multi-million dollar transactions by yourself, and they might suspect you’re not telling the truth.

Repetition is another big no-no. It makes it seem like you’re making a mountain out of a molehill of what you can offer,which is not much. Realise that at the beginning of your academic or work career, it’s natural not to have a lot of experience.

Suck up to the company or programme you’re applying for. If you’re applying for a spot, that already tells people you think highly of the school or firm. Gushing about how great the place is and how much you admire it is going way over the top and can come across insincere.

Get any information wrong. It sounds like a no brainer, but when you’re firing out multiple applications in one day, it’s easy to accidentally forget to edit a specific detail in your letter. This can make you look like you don’t even know what you’re applying for, or that you don’t respect what you’re applying for.