What are they for?
Covering letters have 2 main jobs: to explain what you are applying for and why you are applying, and to explain how you meet the organisation’s criteria.
It also demonstrates your written communication skills, so a well-written covering letter will sell you to a potential employer and encourage them to read your CV.
Because every job is different, that means every covering letter needs to be created from scratch. You need to give enough information to spotlight the important and relevant details on your CV – the letter is not simply a list of your academic qualifications and skills.
What does a covering letter look like?
A covering letter has a standard format. Make your paragraphs concise and well organised, ensuring that each paragraph addresses only one important factor e.g. your motivation or suitability.
Structuring a cover letter
Tell them why you are writing (e.g. for work experience or to apply for a specific vacancy; if the latter, give the job title and where you saw it advertised). Establish any links with the individual or the company to whom you are writing, if relevant, e.g. ‘I spoke with Jane Smith, a consultant at Deloitte, at a careers evening and she suggested I apply for this role’.
2. Why this organisation/Career Path/Sector?
Show that you know something about the organisation and why you would like to work for them. Never just repeat what is on their website. Perhaps you met someone from the company at a careers event or attended a presentation? If so, name them and the event. Explain what motivates you to work in this sector, what you know about it and what is happening currently. This is your chance to show you have researched their organisation, the sector, and potentially the career path too.
3. Why this job role?
You need to show that you understand what the job involves and why it is of interest to you. Look at the information in the job advert which explains what you’ll do in the role, and pick out any task or activities that particularly appeal to you. If it’s a traineeship or a development programme then you can also talk about how it is structured, such as the training provided, or the chance to rotate into different departments.
4. How you meet their requirements
The job advert will also detail the combination of qualifications, knowledge, skills, and experience they are looking for. Make sure to mention these requirements and provide evidence of how you match to them. Briefly detail in which part of your life you demonstrated these requirements so that they can then look for more information on your CV. You can refer to any aspect of your life e.g. side hustle, part-time work, your course, or a role within a club or society.
5. Finishing the letter (one brief paragraph)
This section is just to show that you are polite & know how to end a letter, but if you need to, you can briefly mention any additional factors e.g. why your degree result/A-level grades were not as good as expected, or when you are available if you are requesting work experience.
Letter format guidelines
- Layout: use a formal business letter layout with your address in the top right-hand corner and the name and address of the person and organisation you are applying to below, on the left-hand side. Include the date and any job reference below this. Make sure all names are spelled correctly.
- Length: one side of A4.
- Contact: always try and write to a specific, named person. Use their correct title e.g. ‘Dear Mr Jones’ or ‘Dear Ms Smith’. If you can’t get a name, use Dear Hiring Manager or Dear Sir/Madam,
- Font: Use something simple like Calibri or Arial, but make sure that it matches your CV or it will look like they were written by two different people.
- End the letter correctly: if you address the letter to a named person i.e. ‘Dear Ms Smith,’ sign off with ‘Yours sincerely’. Use ‘Yours faithfully’ if the letter is addressed to ‘Dear Hiring Manager’ or ‘Dear Sir/Madam’. Then leave a few lines and type your name in full, leaving space for your signature.
Applying by email
Make sure that whatever you are sending out is professionally presented and error free. Use the same font type and size in both covering letter and CV. If you have been asked to send your application by email, you can attach both letter and CV to a brief email as .pdfs. Alternatively, you can use the covering letter as the text of the email and attach your CV as a .pdf. Make sure you follow any instructions the employer has given.
A speculative application is sent to an organisation to see if they have any opportunities which have not yet been advertised. It might be a good way of sourcing work experience or work shadowing, as long as you are willing to send a lot of them. Writing a good speculative letter requires you to:
Do your research: good research and careful thinking around the employer/organisation will help you to suggest the roles/areas you are interested in. Employers like to receive suggestions as to the type of work you can do.
Think about the employer’s point of view: do explain what you can bring to the organisation, whether this is relevant experience, or an interest in this area of work and lots of enthusiasm.
Top tips for a winning cover letter:
- Proofread the letter before sending it. Grammar and spelling mistakes are likely to result in your application being rejected
- Make it clear what you are looking for i.e. a meeting to discuss your CV further, an interview or work shadowing. If it is a speculative letter, explain that you will follow it up with a phone call in the near future
- Always keep a copy of the job advert together with the covering letter and CV which you sent in response to it
Remember: we can help!
Book an appointment via MyJobsOnline and bring in your draft CV and covering letter to be checked by a Careers Consultant before you send it off.