Today’s blog post is pretty simple – it’s a class on cover letter writing. Some simple Do’s & Don’t’s (apologies for the questionable and unnecessary apostrophe use on those words….it always looks wrong!) Like many of you, I send and receive many a cover letter each week. Whether it’s for the purposes of sending a CV, to introduce your services, or perhaps to send a proposal to a direct client, a good cover letter is vital. When it comes to sending your cover letter and CV to an agency, some of my colleagues have gone as far as to say that it affects whether your CV gets opened. And if you think about it, that’s pretty logical. A bad cover letter means that your email gets tossed in the bin, without your CV attachment even being downloaded. A good cover letter can inspire your addressee to email you back straight away, so struck are they by your experience, wit and mastery of the language that their index finger hits reply almost spontaneously. Obviously, we want to be at the good extreme of this example! I don’t know about you, but even though I’ll feel bad for my carefully crafted CV, I think I’d definitely want the immediate response.

How you can help

As for cover letters/introduction emails to direct clients, who doesn’t hate the waiting game for responses to prospect emails? I personally ranged from “Relax, it’s only been 5 minutes” to “She’s just chatting it through with her Director” and finished (at the end of the day) with “Everyone hates me. Waaaaa.” I’m sure you’re the same. Please be the same. Anyway, irrational neediness aside, I’ve found that changing the way I write cover letters has really helped. First of all, I’m going to assume that you’ve done your research on the company and the individual. You’ve figured out that you can help the company in some way. We talked in previous posts about making your communications about the client and not about you. Sure, you want to include a bit about your experience, but, like with your resumé, this does not mean writing reams and reams of text on the subject matter of your thesis. Your 45,000 word masterpiece might well mean that you are perfectly placed to help them, but instead of giving them a summary of the content, why don’t you focus one or two sentences on the practicalities of how it helps them solve their problems. Let’s give an example, say your ecommerce studies involved examining the affect of keywords on abandoned carts – how about telling them how having the right keywords in the right language could affect the purchase lifecycle and, ultimately, the number of completed purchases. Throw in a few statistics, like the one from the common sense advisory which tells us that “56.2% [of consumers] say information in their own language is more important than price” to build on your points and then link to something that will help them out, like an article or blog post (even better if it’s one that you’ve written or contributed to). I keep talking about being helpful, but it really is so important.

Cover letterAgency letters – what to include

Obviously the approach for different types of prospect are different. We looked briefly about what an agency wants to see in a cover letter, so here are a few points on what you should include:


  • Your language pair(s)
  • Brief summary of experience e.g. in-house or number of years freelancing
  • Brief summary of qualifications
  • Your areas of specialism plus areas that you work in
  • Any CAT tools you use
  • Any (specialised) software you can use
  • Your “status” – many countries need to know that you are legally allowed to work on a self-employed basis
  • Your rates
  • Your contact details (these can be in your signature and can include social media and your website)

Addressing the contact by name is always appreciated. Everybody hates impersonal emails and letters – remember it’s a person on the other side of the screen. Obviously don’t be overly friendly and bear in mind the conventions of the country within which your addressee is based. When they respond, you can follow their lead, i.e. don’t tutoyer straight off the bat. Many countries prefer to stay formal until a professional working relationship has been established, you don’t want to mess this up because you got overly cosy in your second email. Stay classy, linguists.

cover letter tickDirect client communication – what to include

Writing an introductory letter to a potential client is somewhat different as the approach for each will vary, depending on their industry, what you’re offering, your relationship (if any) with them, your method of communication, their style…the list goes on. There are few absolutes. One thing is clear though, being helpful helps. (I know I sound like a broken record). Before you type a single letter, consider:

  • Can I help this company?
  • How can I help this company?

Once you have figured out if you actually can help them (and this doesn’t mean just wanting to help them because they’re really cool) then figure out the details. Use your experience and qualifications to figure out what sort of problems they might have. Then map out how your skills could help them – whether it’s localising content for a new market they’re moving into or getting their research to a wider audience, let them know how this will help them get what they want. Then tell them about other things that can help them – it could be useful articles, perhaps information about grants towards translation costs…you get the idea.

When it comes to writing the actual email, you don’t want any more than about 150 words and you can take a few of the elements of your agency letter (but only a few) and rework them:

  • Why you’re contacting them
  • What you do (briefly!)
  • How you can help them
  • The problems this will solve
  • The benefits
  • Helpful info or link
  • Thank you and contact details (again, can be in signature)

Just as for your CV, one of the key themes is brevity. Nobody wants to read an eight page long email, and whether the goal is for them to put you on their database, their payroll or even just to connect, you don’t want to get off on the wrong foot. Whichever language you’re writing in, it’s worth considering having your business communications checked and proofread by a native speaker. I have an editor for important letters and emails I write in Spanish and Portuguese and it’s an inexpensive way of making sure that you don’t make silly mistakes – think of it as damage control! It’s a small cost that could save you big money. Remember that every communication you send is a form of marketing and it is an insight into the service you will provide. You need to make a good impression. Equally, I think of every email to a potential client as a “deal-in-waiting” – if I blow it because of a silly grammatical error, I think of it as money lost. Getting feedback from your proofreader is vital – you’ll start to see where you’re going wrong and can do the study you need to improve your business communication skills in your source language.

To wrap it up, the principles of keeping it simple, keeping it short and keeping it spellchecked still apply – and of course, as always, being helpful helps.

Have you got any tips you can share on writing cover letters? We’re running a class on business communication, quote writing and CV writing over the summer, pass this on to anyone you think would be interested!

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  • Well done, Jo! I have always used these recommendations and there is only one thing I would add:
    Remember to include the specific benefits you can offer to the individual company in question. The client isn’t so interested in what you have done for others; he/she needs to know the benefits you can bring to his/her own business, which would make his/her firm more profitable.
    Also, where possible, include testimonials!

    Kind regards

    Ian Orr-Ewing

  • Vanessa Tomich says:

    You’ve been so helpful, pal! Thank you very much!
    I’m a Brazilian technical & certified/sworn translator (EN-BR/PT-EN).
    Now it’s my turn: If I can be of help, please let me know.
    Best regards,

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