To give your job application the best possible chance of success you need to know how to write a relevant and concise cover letter. Take a look at our examples for inspiration
What is a cover letter?
A cover letter is a document sent alongside your CV when applying for jobs. It acts as a personal introduction and helps to sell your application. A cover letter is necessary as it gives you the chance to explain to an employer why you're the best candidate for the job. You do this by highlighting relevant skills and experience; therefore you should always write your cover letter with the position you're applying for in mind.
Cover letters should complement your CV but not duplicate it. The general consensus among recruiters when it comes to the length of these documents is the shorter the better. Typically three to five short paragraphs, cover letters should not exceed one A4 page. If sending electronically, put the text in the body of the email rather than as an attachment, to avoid it being detected by spam filters.
Applications should always include a cover letter unless the job advert instructs you differently.
How to write a cover letter
Keep your cover letter brief, while making sure it emphasises your suitability for the job. It can be broken down into the following sections:
- First paragraph - The opening statement should set out why you're writing the letter. Begin by stating the position you're applying for, where you saw it advertised and when you are available to start.
- Second paragraph - Cover why you’re suitable for the job, what attracted you to this type of work, why you're interested in working for the company and what you can offer the organisation.
- Third paragraph - Highlight relevant experience and demonstrate how your skills match the specific requirements of the job description. Summarise any additional strengths and explain how these could benefit the company.
- Last paragraph - Use the closing paragraph to round up your letter. Reiterate your interest in the role and indicate your desire for a personal interview. Now is the time to mention any unavailable dates. Finish by thanking the employer and say how you are looking forward to receiving a response.
How to address a cover letter
Always try and address your cover letter directly to the person who will be reading it. Bear in mind that you're more likely to receive a reply if you send it to the right person.
Advertised positions usually include a contact name, but if not, it is worth taking the time to find out who the letter should be addressed to. You can do this by searching the company’s website for details of the hiring manager or alternatively you could call the organisation to ask who you should address your letter to. Don't be afraid to do this, many employers will appreciate you taking the time and initiative to do so.
If you're struggling to find a named contact you can use a general salutation such as:
- Dear Sir/Madam
- Dear Hiring manager
- Dear Human resources director.
However, general greetings should only be used once you have exhausted methods of finding a named contact. How you sign off your cover letter depends on how you addressed it. If you include a named contact sign off 'yours sincerely'. If you use a general one finish with 'yours faithfully'.
Example cover letters
6 tips for the perfect cover letter
With employers often receiving lots of applications for each vacancy, you need to ensure that your cover letter makes a lasting impression for the right reasons. Here are some tips to increase your chances of success:
- Be concise - Ideally a cover letter should take up half a page of A4 or one full page if necessary. Read through the document and cut out any unnecessary words and sentences. Don't fill up available space by repeating what's already covered in your CV.
- Tailor to the organisation - You should rewrite your cover letter every time you apply for a position in order to target the individual company. Sending out a generic letter for all applications rarely yields positive results and recruiters can spot your lack of time and effort from a mile away.
- Proofread - Never rely on a computer spellcheck program to pick up every mistake. Print off your cover letter and double-check for spelling and grammar errors before passing it to family member or friend to look over. Also make sure that your own contact details and the company name are correct.
- Format - Presentation is important so you'll need to format your cover letter properly. Make sure the document is as uncluttered as possible, use the same font and size as you use in your CV and if you're sending it through the post or handing it in use good quality plain white paper to print it on.
- Identify your USPs - They're your unique selling points. Be positive about what you have to offer and clearly outline how your skills and experience meet those requested in the job description. Demonstrate why you’re the perfect candidate.
- Include examples - Back up the claims in your cover letter with real evidence or examples that show how and when you've used your skills and experience.
Find out more
If you're a student or recent graduate you can make an appointment with your university's careers and employability service to access further help when writing your cover letter. You'll be able to talk with specially-trained advisers, get advice on what to include and have a professional eye look over your application before sending.
Written by Jemma Smith, Editor
Prospects · April 2017
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Posted on: July 18, 2017
A well-written cover letter can make a difference between your CV being read and it being thrown into the bin.
When applying for jobs, some applicants tend to throw their CVs in the general direction of a recruiter, and hope for the best. They haven’t included a cover letter with the application, and that could be costing them opportunities.
What’s a cover letter and why’s it so important?
A well-written cover letter can be the difference between getting an interview and being filtered out at the start. It’s your opportunity to take all the skills and accomplishments you’d find in a good CV, summarise it, and send a direct message to the recruiter about why you deserve the job ahead of the candidates that make up the rest of the pack. In essence, it’s a focused sales pitch.
Do the research
Before sitting down to write a cover letter, do some research on the company and the role you’re applying for. This is good preparation for a possible interview, but it’s also valuable for you to understand whether this role is a good fit.
Doing this research will help you personalise your cover letter and allow you to write something unique and powerful. It’ll allow you avoid something too generic and templated, again with the aim of creating a letter which hits home, using the style and terminology that will be suitable for the recruiter you’re applying for. You also need to write content which can grab the attention of a recruiter in a few seconds.
Researching the company will also help you with writing a cover letter. For instance, if you’re applying for a job opening, the cover letter you write will be tailored for the role you’re going for. If you’re prospecting a company with inquiries about possible positions, the nature of what you write will obviously be different.
Image: Adpbe Stock
How to start a cover letter?
If you want to personalise your cover letter, it will help to address it to the right person. Sometimes that’s easy, as some job advertisements will have a contact name on the advert. Other times that won’t be the case. If it’s the latter, it won’t hurt addressing the cover letter to the manager of the specific department you’re applying for. You might get extra brownie points for tracking down the name of relevant person in the company.
What to include in a cover letter
- The first paragraph – Make an impact
This is extremely key, as in a cover letter you need to make an impact and give the recruiter a reason to read on. If you’re applying to an advertised listing, it would be good to mention the job advert. If you’re fortunate to have a referral for this job from a contact, make sure you include it, as that could make a big difference.
Here are some examples of good opening paragraphs.
I was pleased to hear from Jeremy Green that you will soon have a vacancy for a Marketing Assistant. I am very interested in this position, and with my skills I could be an asset to your company.
Having recently read in The Times of your company’s plans for expansion, I am writing to establish whether this will involve an increase in personnel. As a final year business student at Durham University, I am seeking a position in January that will develop my marketing and finance skills.
I am writing to apply for the Photographic Assistant position advertised in the November 1 listing of Car Magazine.
- The second paragraph – Why should they choose you?
This is where you should write a strong statement about why the employer should choose you, describing the most relevant skills and experiences related to the job you’re applying for. Your research will help determine what you include, as you match the skills you put down in the job description. If you’re prospecting rather than going for an individual job, think about the skills you believe will be most important to the company.
Here are examples of good second paragraphs
I could be a great fit for your business. I recently finished a Marketing degree at the University of London, which means I have a great grounding in the skills needed for this role, as well as relevant work experience at numerous companies.
Through my degree, I have built up a good knowledge of skills needed to thrive in a company such as yours – for example, business law, digital business, corporate finance and employment law. I’ve also had work experience at high-profile financial institutions.
I recently finished a Photography degree at South Bank University, where I developed business skills and increased my technical knowledge. I have also had work experience at numerous photography publications.
- The third paragraph – How can it work for both of you?
Your research is important here. If you’ve analysed the job description properly, you should be able to write a section where you can emphasise what you can do for the company, rather than vice versa. It might help to outline a relevant career goal and to incorporate your research. You can also expand on the most relevant parts of your CV.
I’ve spoken to Jeremy, and I understand that you’re looking for a graduate with high technical skill and strong potential to grow as a digital marketer. I fit that profile, and have the confidence to grow and contribute to your business.
Your company has recently called for graduates to apply who have similar skillsets to mine, but with the hunger to achieve their short and long-term goals at a fast-growing company. I can make a positive impact at your business, and be part of the great culture you’ve developed.
At South Bank, I developed all the technical and business skills required for the position. Your company offers the potential for me to develop a long-term career in automotive photography, and I’m confident that I can contribute to the continued success of your publication.
Image: Adobe Stock
What not to include in your cover letter
Be careful to keep the cover letter concise and snappy. The purpose isn’t to tell your life story or repeat what you’re going to say at interview. Keep your letter focused and just a few paragraphs in length – it’s there to convey enough information to get that job interview. Also, if you go into too much detail, there’s a risk of the recruiter getting bored or worst still, not even bothering to start reading.
Watch the language! Avoid cliché and catchphrases, and make sure the you don’t use the word ‘I’ too much – you need to write for the reader, and they’ll want to know that you’ve thought about them in depth. Don’t use abbreviations, unless you clearly explain what they mean. And incorporate industry terms relevant to the company you’re applying for, but only if you genuinely understand what they mean.
How to end a cover letter
Concluding the letter, you might decide to make a final statement that you’re available to meet with the employer at their convenience, or better still, say you’ll follow up on a specific day. If the job description specifically asks you to include salary details, put those in, but if not leave them out – that should be up for discussion at a later stage, such as the interview. You should put contact details in, and consider adding links to work social profiles or personal websites you’re happy to share.
Thank you for considering my application. I will contact you next week to follow up on my application and arrange for an interview – in the meantime, call me on my phone number at xxxxxxxxxxx or email me at xxxx@xxxx. You can also see examples of my work at xxxx.com.
In terms of salary, I’m looking at a figure between £xxxxx and £xxxxx.
Edit and proofread your cover letter
From a recruiter’s viewpoint, typos and mistakes in a cover letter can be a sign that the candidate doesn’t take due care with what they create – so don’t do it! Make sure you edit and proofread your cover letter thoroughly. If necessary, get someone else to do it. The editor of your cover letter can imagine themselves as a recruiter, providing insight you won’t necessarily get reading it by yourself.
Important points to note
- Avoid sounding pompous or using clichés and catch phrases, there are some statements that are used all the time such as ‘I have excellent interpersonal skills’, you want your letter to be unique.
- Try to avoid using ‘I’ too much. A page of I did this and I did that is not appealing – it says to the employer that you haven’t thought about them.
- Do not use abbreviations.
- Do not exceed four paragraphs of content.
- To satisfy the skim reader, incorporate some industry sound bites and buzzwords.
- Subtly flatter the company, for example ‘you are the industry leader’
- Check and then recheck your spelling, grammar and punctuation. Get someone else to read it through also.
- If you are making a speculative application you should follow up the letter with a phone call, e-mail or office visit.
- Paper clip your covering letter to your CV, one should never be sent out without the other.
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