A covering letter highlights your relevant strengths and motivation for the job and organisation you are applying to, and markets you effectively by complementing your CV.
While there isn’t one way to write a covering letter there are some key things to consider to ensure you follow a logical structure and engage the employer in reading your letter.
Top tips for success
Make sure that your letter is clear, informative and professional-looking, so that the recruiter will want to go on and read your CV.
- Keep to one page
- If possible, address it to a named person: just call the organisation and ask, if it’s not clear elsewhere
- Set it out like a business letter, with addresses and date at the top
- Check your spelling and grammar
- Use the same font as your CV so that they look consistent
- Consider addressing gaps in your CV or other areas you think might need explaining, for example, a retaken year or a health problem. Try to be brief and positive and if in doubt book an appointment with a careers consultant
- Tailor your letter to each application and try to highlight skills and experience that are relevant to that specific job and employer (it’s obvious it’s a generic letter if you just change the organisation name!)
- Give evidence for claims you make
- Try not to start every sentence with ‘I’
- Keep it concise and focused to encourage further reading of your letter and CV
- Be professional rather than overly humorous or informal
- Sell yourself: don’t underplay your skills or make negative comments about yourself
- If you are sending your application by email, attach the CV and covering letter rather than typing it into the email body. The format of an email can change drastically depending on the system used by the employer.
Write in clear, concise English with a professional yet conversational tone. While you will need to support your claims with evidence, try not to drown the reader with details and avoid jargon they may not understand.
Content and layout
The exact content will depend on you and the job or course but it should include the content outlined below. Remember, you can vary the order of information to suit your style of writing, but make sure it reads logically.
Introduce yourself (subject, year and where are you are studying) and explain why you are writing. If you are making a speculative enquiry about the possibility of a job, be clear about the type of work or opportunity you are asking for. If you are responding to an advert, say where you saw it.
Why this role
The covering letter is where you should explain your interest and enthusiasm for an organisation and role. Say what attracts you to the kind of work involved, based on your knowledge of the duties and likely satisfactions. This will demonstrate your understanding of the opportunity and your motivation.
Show you’ve done your research into the organisation. Mention what you have done to find out more, e.g. online research or speaking with their staff at careers events, and explain how your skills and interests match the organisation’s values and culture. If possible, back this up by referring to relevant activities where you have demonstrated these interests.
When describing what attracts you to the organisation, make it specific and original, rather than repeating facts stated on their website. Note: If you could say the exact same things about a different organisation, then you have not been specific enough, and the employer will spot this.
Sometimes you won’t know who the employer is, e.g. if you are applying via a recruitment agency. In this case concentrate on the attractions of the role.
Why you are perfect for the job
Using the job description or person specification, describe your most relevant experiences as evidence of the employer’s requirements. This will help convince the employer you are the ideal candidate for this job. If there is no detailed job description, use careers information/job profiles which describe typical features of the work.
You can also use this careers information for a speculative application, as you can describe abilities and experience that you would expect them to be looking for given the nature of the opportunity that you are seeking.
While the CV is a brief summary of facts and your selling points, the covering letter is where you show exactly how and why you fit the opportunity and organisation you are applying to. So when describing your key examples don’t repeat the information already in your CV. Instead, add more detail to make a stronger and compelling case.
Reiterate your enthusiasm to join the organisation and end with ‘I look forward to hearing from you’ or a similar statement. If appropriate, say when you are/are not available for interview. Ensure you sign off ‘Yours sincerely’ if writing to a named individual, and ‘Yours faithfully’ if you have not been able to find a named contact. Type your name, but also sign the letter if you are printing it out.