A compelling and well-written cover letter can make you stand out from the crowd, so it is worth investing the time and effort to get it right. It should act as an advert for your CV and encourage the reader to look further. Highlight the main strengths you have for the job and why you really want to work for the company.
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 and, if necessary, abbreviate it to street, town/city and postcode.
Start the main body of your letter in a professional way, e.g. '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 or using LinkedIn, and make sure you get the details (name, title and job title) right.
Covering emails for electronic applications are different. They should be shorter – if unsure seek help from your Careers Consultant.
Write in plain English and short sentences, using lively language and active verbs. A thesaurus can help you find 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'.
Structure your letter in 3-4 reasonably short paragraphs on a single A4 sheet.
- Introduction – Why are you writing? Tell them about yourself and your reason for writing, whether this is a speculative approach or your response to an advertised vacancy. If the post is advertised, give the job title and reference number (if given) and mention where you saw it.
- Why them – Why do you really want to work for this organisation? Popular employers get many applications from people who just fancy working for a ‘big name’. If you can demonstrate a deeper interest, then your letter is more likely to appeal to them. Briefly indicate how you’ve researched the organisation. Show them what interests you. This might be specific aspects of the training scheme, the opportunity to apply specialist knowledge, the organisation’s culture and values, or the possibility of expansion into new business areas. See Researching employers and industries for more information.
- Why you - What can you offer? Highlight relevant work experience, course modules, projects, grades etc. Refer to your CV but don’t just repeat yourself; expand on your points by matching specific skills to the job requirements. Show that you are focused but flexible.
- Specific Issues - This section should address gaps in your CV or low exam grades which negate your ability. You could also highlight particular strengths you have gained, perhaps through coping with a disability, or address any concerns you predict the employer might have. Be positive - 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 follow up the application – and do so within two weeks. You can include practical details, e.g. your availability for interview or work experience. Close the letter with 'Yours sincerely' if addressed to a named individual, and 'Yours faithfully' if not.
For more help look at our email/cover letter examples, then book a Quick Query appointment for a cover letter review.