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It's important to get your cover letter right. It's your one opportunity to sell your skills and experience to potential employers. Find out how to write and format a cover letter and take ideas and inspiration from our cover letter templates
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.
Cover letters are necessary as they give 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.
Not to be confused with personal statements for your CV , cover letters should complement your CV but not duplicate it. The 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 do I write a good cover letter?
Before writing your cover letter it's important that you do your research. While reading the job description thoroughly is essential, it's not enough on its own. To help you craft a successful cover letter you’ll need to find out more about:
- who will be reading your cover letter
- the organisation and its culture
- the industry it operates in and any relevant news
- company competitors and market position.
- the organisations goals over the next five years.
When writing your cover letter keep it brief, while making sure it emphasises your suitability for the job. Cover letters 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 - 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.
- Third 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. This is a good opportunity to show off your knowledge of the company.
- Last paragraph - Use the closing paragraph to round up your letter. Reiterate your interest in the role and indicate your desire for an interview. Now is the time to mention any unavailable dates.
Once finished read through the document and cut out any unnecessary words and sentences. Don't fill up space by repeating what's already covered in your CV. As a rule, only mention your current salary or salary expectations if the employer has specifically asked you to. If you're asked to include this information, put it between the third and last paragraphs.
Unless the job advert states differently (for example, it may ask you to provide your CV and cover letter as a Word document) save with a .PDF file extension to make sure it can be opened and read on any machine. Windows PCs and Macs don't always work in harmony - Windows use a .docx file extension and Macs .pages but if the recruiter uses the opposite system, they may not be able to open your file. Using a .PDF file extension should solve this.
If you need help with your CV take a look at how to write a CV .
How should I 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.
If you're struggling to find a named contact, you can use a general greeting 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 do I sign off?
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 greeting, finish with 'Yours faithfully'.
Example cover letters
- Sample cover letter - Used to highlight your skills and experience and to express your suitability and passion for the job, cover letters are used to encourage recruiters to look at your CV. Attention to detail is crucial and spelling, grammar and formatting needs to be spot on. Take a look at our sample cover letter for inspiration.
- Speculative cover letter - These can sometimes be an effective method of creating an opportunity. To ensure that speculative cover letters are successful you'll need to do your research on the company you're applying to. Using our cover letter template, discover what to include in speculative applications.
- Cover letter by a Masters graduate - You probably embarked on a Masters to expand your subject knowledge, gain industry contacts and improve your job prospects but to really make it work you need to know how to sell your postgraduate qualification to employers.
- Cover letter for a jobseeker with no experience - It can be tough applying for a job with no experience, but our example cover letter shows you how to promote yourself to an employer if you haven't got any directly related work experience.
- Explaining a gap in your CV - Knowing how to navigate around gaps in your CV can be tricky but it's a mistake to try and gloss over them. Your cover letter is the perfect place to explain these gaps in your employment history to potential employers. Take a look at our sample cover letter to find out how to go about it.
- Cover letter for changing career - Find out how to explain a change of direction in our example cover letter for career changers. You'll need to briefly cover why you want to change career and relate your past experience and wealth of skills to the industry/job you’re applying to.
- Cover letter by an international graduate - If you'd like to expand your horizons by working abroad, take a look at our cover letter of an international student applying for a job in the UK. You’ll need to do your research if you apply for a job in another country, as application rules may differ.
- Disclosing a disability - Just like your gender, marital status and dependants your disability doesn't affect your ability to do a job and you're not legally required to disclose it on your CV or in your cover letter. However, if you would like to disclose a disability to outline any adjustments you may need, this sample cover letter will show you how.
- Internship cover letter - To set yourself above the competition you need to successfully sell your relevant skills and experience while conveying your passion for the role. As well as explaining to employers what the opportunity could do for you, you'll need to communicate what you could do for the company. Discover how to craft the perfect application for a formal internship with our internship cover letter template.
- Apprenticeship cover letter - Apprenticeships are an increasingly popular route into work, as well as a great alternative to university. Find out how to apply for these roles with our apprenticeship cover letter example.
For inspiration and guidance on crafting a CV see example CVs .
When should I follow up my application?
It's always a good idea to follow up on a job application if you don't hear back. If two weeks have passed and you've had no response, send an email to the hiring manager to check that your application has been received. Use this opportunity to reiterate your interest in the role and why you think you'd be an asset to the company.
Keep this email brief. It shouldn't act as a second cover letter or attempt to replace or repeat the original.
What are some top tips for writing a 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. These tips will increase your chances of success:
- Tailor to the organisation - You should rewrite your cover letter every time you apply for a position in order to target the 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.
- 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.
- Use keywords that appear in the job advert - This lets the employer know that you’ve read and understood the job description. It also demonstrates that you’ve taken the time to tailor your application to the job.
- 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.
- Save a copy - If you’re invited to interview you might need to refer back to it.
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.
To make sure you don’t trip up read about the 5 things to avoid when writing a cover letter .
Find out more
- Learn more about applying for jobs .
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Covering letter essentials for graduate vacancies
targetjobs editorial team
Last updated: 25 Jan 2023, 13:39
When do you write a covering letter to go with your CV and what should you say? Use our tips to structure this part of your job application.
A convincing covering letter (or cover letter, as it’s more commonly known in the US) typically accompanies a CV for a graduate vacancy. It’s your opportunity to show recruiters your most relevant skills and demonstrate your motivation and enthusiasm for the job and the employer.
A covering letter shouldn’t be longer than one side of A4. Here's our four-part failsafe guide to using this limited space to sell your skills.
How to write a graduate cover letter in four steps
1. The opening
Tell the graduate recruiter which job you are applying for, where you saw the advert and why you are applying. If the job has a reference number, it is always good to include this.
Tip: always address your covering letter to a named contact. Give the organisation a call to find out to whom you should address your job application if a name isn’t given on the advert. Get the person’s title (and gender!) right: Mr, Miss, Mrs or Ms? Or would another title be appropriate: Dr, for example? People may feel quite strongly about how they are addressed, and it would be a shame to fall at the first hurdle.
2. Why you?
The first paragraph or two are about you. Tell the employer why you are well suited to the role you are applying for, referring directly to the job description and concentrating on how you have the skills, abilities and/or knowledge to excel in the job. Mix evidence of specific skills and knowledge related to the job with work experience examples and personal skills.
At graduate level remember that it’s fine to refer to work experience that isn’t directly related to the profession you are applying to. You need to show how your current experience ‘transfers’ into the job. Examples from part-time jobs, extracurricular activities and academic work will all help to demonstrate how you have used and developed skills such as communication, teamwork, problem solving, organisation, time management and commercial awareness.
Do you live in the area where the job is based? If not, is the recruiter likely to wonder if you’re going to have problems getting into work in the morning? You may need to explain that you would be willing to relocate.
Tip: avoid copying statements direct from your CV. Think about how you can rephrase the information or expand on particular skills and achievements you have that are right for the role.
3. Why them?
The next paragraph explains why you are interested in the job and the organisation. What is it about the employer and job role that made you apply? This is your opportunity to target your covering letter so that the recruiter knows you are interested in their graduate job and you’re not batch emailing standard CVs and covering letters to all and sundry.
Re-read the job advertisement or job description and make sure you have done some background research into the organisation. This will help you tell the recruiter what attracts you to working for them and why you are interested in the particular job.
Tip: provide specific reasons for applying, such as the work they do or the training they provide. Avoid anything that could be said about pretty much any employer, such as ‘… because you’re a prestigious and dynamic employer’.
4. The ending
The closing paragraph should be strong and clear. Reaffirm your suitability for the role and your enthusiasm about the prospect of working for the employer. State that you look forward to hearing from them and are happy to provide any further information they need.
Don’t forget to sign the letter if you are sending it through the post, or to print your name if you are sending your covering letter by e-mail.
Tip: brush up on how to write a business letter and current format practices. For letters addressed to a named contact, finish: Yours sincerely. Dear Sir/Madam letters finish: Yours faithfully – but it’s better to get a named contact.
You could turn steps two and three around and write about why you’re applying to the employer first if you'd find that more comfortable. As long as you cover both ‘why you’ and ‘why them’ in the letter, the exact order doesn’t matter.
Get the insights and skills you need to shape your career journey with Pathways. We’ll show you exactly what goes into a convincing cover letter, so you can give yourself the best chance of getting to the next stage of the application process.
When to write a covering letter
You must write a covering letter for a job when you are invited to submit a CV via an email or (more rare nowadays) through the post. There are two ways to send your covering letter via email, and both are usually acceptable, though you should check the job advert carefully to see if you have been given any specific instructions.
- Attach both the CV and the covering letter to your email. Make the email a brief message saying that your application for the vacancy (give the relevant details) is attached.
- Write the covering letter directly into the email. You could include your contact details as a signature at the end. Attach your CV.
If you are uploading a CV as part of an application form, you don’t usually have to upload a covering letter as well (unless the employer requests one).
Otherwise, you should never opt out of sending a covering letter with your CV. Don’t go for the ‘Please find attached my CV for your consideration’ one liner. It's a missed opportunity.
Tip: use sensible filenames for your attachments, eg Joe Bloggs_covering letter.doc and use a subject line that will make sense to the recipient and looks professional, for example, use the job reference: Vacancy – ED123_PT trainee accountant.
Make your covering letter memorable and to the point
You’ll stand out if you:
- Don’t waffle
- Match your skills and experience to the requirements in the job description
- Avoid generalised statements and clichés
- Express yourself clearly.
Keep sentences straightforward and fairly simple. Using action verbs will help. Keep your writing professional and err on the side of formality rather than being too chatty.
Tip: read through your covering letter out loud. This will help you identify verbose sentences that can be rewritten and will help you check the sense of your writing.
Check spelling, grammar and sense very carefully
Before you send out a covering letter check it for spelling, grammar and sense. Elegant formatting won’t make up for poor spelling and grammar. Graduate recruiters will be reviewing your attention to detail and your ability to communicate in writing, so your covering letter is your first chance to impress. Get a trusted friend or careers adviser to give it a once over before you send it out.
Tip: when proofreading your covering letter for a graduate job, read it forwards and read it backwards. No joke. You’re more likely to spot a spelling mistake if you read word by word back from the end. If not, get someone else to proofread your letter for you.
targetjobs editorial advice
This describes editorially independent and impartial content, which has been written and edited by the targetjobs content team. Any external contributors featuring in the article are in line with our non-advertorial policy, by which we mean that we do not promote one organisation over another.
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