How to write a cover letter

Your cover letter can make or break your job application. Here’s how to stand out in all the right ways.


Whether you’re transitioning from the ADF or looking for your next role in the civilian workforce, you need to know how to write a cover letter. Realistically, writing a great cover letter is an art you’re unlikely to have honed while working in the military. In this article, the career experts at the RSL Veterans’ Employment Program share their tips for writing a great cover letter.


Personalise your cover letter


Be sure to address your cover letter to the correct person - ideally, the hiring manager. Sometimes their name is included in the job listing. If it's not, then you’ll need to do your research by calling the company to ask. Best of all, this will demonstrate your attention to detail and put your name on the company’s radar.


Highlight who you are


Your cover letter is your opportunity to introduce yourself to your potential employer. Start your first paragraph by telling them who you are - the professional you - and a little bit about your work history. Keep it brief and succinct, but be sure to link it all back to the role you’re applying for.

Need a hand articulating what you have to offer? Read eight reasons why veterans make great employees in this blog post. You cover letter is an opportunity to let the hiring manager know what your professional attributes are.


Address the essential criteria


Your cover letter should demonstrate your experience and skills, as relevant to the requirements of the job. This is your opportunity to address and incorporate the essential criteria listed in the job description. It’s important to respond to each criterion clearly.


Use keywords from the job listing


When reading through the job listing, jot down the keywords that stand out to you. Are they looking for ‘attention to detail’, or maybe they emphasise the job requires someone with ‘technical knowledge' in a particular area? Strengthen your cover letter by describing yourself, your strengths and your skills using the same terms. This article on Seek offers more guidance on weaving keywords into your cover letter.


Don’t repeat your CV


In your cover letter, add details that the hiring manager won’t find in your CV. Do you have a professional achievement you feel will be particularly valuable to this role? Use it to your advantage, and link it back to the criteria outlined in the job listing. Use these examples to show how your time in Defence has armed you with the skills you need for this civilian job. This is where the narrative of your professional life comes into play. You can read more about the importance of storytelling in this Harvard Business Review article.



7 quick cover letter writing tips


  1. Keep it to one page

  2. Use clear, concise language

  3. Avoid military jargon

  4. Use your own words - never copy and paste from online examples

  5. Avoid starting every sentence and paragraph with ‘I’

  6. Match the tone and terminology of the industry

  7. Ask someone you trust to proofread it for you.

How to start a cover letter


Getting your cover letter started is the hardest part. These tips can help.


Be enthusiastic

Example: “I was thrilled to see [company] is hiring for a [name of role] skilled in [list the two top skills]. With my 10-plus years of experience working in the military and [speak about link to skills], I am a great fit for the role.”


Put your best foot forward

Example: “For the last two years, I have managed and led a team of more than eight engineers on a $40 million dollar military project, which we completed three months early. I’d love to bring my project management expertise to the [name of role] with [company].


Use a belief statement

Example: “As an Army Nurse Corps, I believe everyone deserves the right to quality and compassionate care in all circumstances.”


Be inspired by the news

Example: “When I saw the feature on [company] in the [where you saw it], and its commitment to supporting Australian veterans, I was inspired. With more than 10 years in the military, I’m excited at the possibility of bringing a compassionate and first-hand understanding of the complexities of the ADF, which I believe will be valuable in the role as (name of role).”


Be passionate

Example: “I’ve always been passionate about aviation, and through my years’ experience in the Air Force as an aviation engineer, my understanding and respect for the field has grown.”



Contact the RSL Veterans’ Employment Program


Cover letters can be tricky at the best of times, but translating specialised military skills for a civilian employer adds an extra layer of challenge. The expert career coaches at the RSL Veterans’ Employment Program can help. Reach out for free one-on-one guidance today.