Covering letters explained

Your covering letter personalises your CV by showing your enthusiasm for the role, and by telling employers why their job interests you and what you can offer. You can also use the cover letter to raise issues such as the need for workplace adaptations if you have a disability. A compelling and well-written covering letter can make you stand out from other applicants so it is worth making the effort to get it right.

Format

Use standard business layout with your address top right and today's date below that. Put the company name and address at the left margin below. If the company address is particularly long abbreviate it down to the street name, town/city name and postcode. It's not worth taking up lots of space on an address. Then start the main part of your letter in a professional way, eg 'Dear John Smith' or 'Dear Mr Smith'.

You should always write to a named person. If you don’t have a name, try to find one by phoning the company switchboard, and make sure you get the details (name, title and job title) right. 

Covering emails for electronic applications are different – if unsure seek help from the Careers Consultants in the Placement and Careers Centre (PCC).

Style

Write in plain English and short sentences, using lively language and active verbs. A thesaurus can help with new ways to express similar ideas. Try to avoid stereotyped phrases and over-generalisations. Don’t be one of the thousands of students who say they want to work in a multi-national organisation with good training opportunities.

Main sections/paragraphs

Include 3-4 resonably short paragraphs on a single A4 sheet.

Introduction - Tell them about yourself and your reason for writing – whether it’s a speculative approach or response to an advertised vacancy. If it is an advertised post, give the job title, the job reference number (if given) and say where you saw it.

Why them – why do you really want to work for this organisation? Popular employers get many applicants who just fancy working for a ‘big name’. Show a deeper interest and your battle is half won. Briefly indicate how you’ve researched the organisation eg through PCC or personal contacts, at careers fairs and from the business press. Show them what interests you. This might be specific aspects of the training scheme, the opportunity to apply specialist knowledge, the organisation’s culture or expansion into new business areas.

Why you - what can you offer? Highlight relevant work experience, course modules, projects, grades etc. Refer to your CV but don’t just repeat points; expand on them by making a match between your specific skills and the job requirements. Aim to show that you are focused but flexible.

Specific Issues - Use this section to address issues such as gaps in CV or low exam grades which don’t reflect your ability. You could also highlight particular strengths you have gained through coping with a disability or learning difficulty, or address any possible concerns the employer might have. Be positive, but don’t let these issues dominate the whole letter.

Close - Avoid standard phrases such as ‘I look forward to hearing from you’, instead say that you will phone to follow up a speculative application – and do so within two weeks. You could also include practical details, eg availability for interview or for work experience. Finally, close the letter with 'Yours sincerely' if it has been addressed to a named individual, 'Yours faithfully' if not.

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Page last updated: Monday 06 October 2014