Cover letters

A cover letter is an essential part of almost every job application. Not only do you have to make sure it sells your skills and abilities to potential employers, you also need to do it in a clear and concise manner that ultimately persuades the reader to want to meet you. 

You should send a cover letter with every CV application unless the employer or job advert states not to. It is the first thing the employer will read and, decide from it if they are interested in reading and spending time looking at your CV.

A CV will demonstrate your skills and experience, whereas the cover letter puts this into the context of the job role and shows your motivation and ability to perform this job.

It should also show your enthusiasm for the organisation and the research you have done on this particular company.

  • You should write a new cover letter for each position you are applying for.
  • You can tailor your cover letter by talking about the relevant skills and achievements in line with what the employer is looking for in their job description or person specification.  

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An R&D Director at a large multinational described a good cover letter as

“a half-page that’s clearly personal to that particular job. Some passion about the job, the role, the company, that makes you feel like they really want this job. Just keep it brief!

“The best covering letters have clearly been written specifically for the role and demonstrate why a candidate is interested in the specific position and where they feel their strengths and experience fit.

Samantha Clarke of Management Consultancy CRSI

Tips for writing an effective cover letter

Style and format

  • Keep it within one page of A4 - two pages for an academic position.
  • Use a clear structure with concise information and evidence.  
  • Use action words to convey your experience and achievements. 
  • Use the same font and style as your CV.  
  • Title your cover letter in bold under the ‘Dear…’. Include a reference number to the job role, if you have one, as there may be multiple roles openings at the same time.

Content and structure

  • Include your name and address on the right-hand side, and the company name and address on the left. If you are unsure of the address, or if the role is at a regional office, but there is also a head office, call up and find out. 
  • Double check the way the company spells their name and ensure you copy this. Look for unusual spellings or acronyms or changes.
  • Put a date on your application. 
  • Address your letter with the name of the recruiting manager where possible, as this will show you have done your research. If you can’t find this out, you could use ‘To Whom It May Concern’, or ‘Dear Recruiter’.

Suggested cover letter structure

Below is a possible outline structure for your cover letter. You may prefer to change the order of the ‘why them’ and ‘why you’ paragraphs, and you may choose to split the ‘why you’ paragraph into two, depending on the content but remember to limit to one page. A top tip, if you are having difficulties condensing to one page adjust the margin settings to ‘narrow’. However, don’t be tempted to reduce the font size below 11pt to fit your content.

Introduction

  • Use the opening paragraph to give: a clear and concise introduction to yourself. Indicate the vacancy you are applying for and where you heard about it.
  • Mention any connections you have, or if you met someone at a specific event. Following my conversation with NAME, at the LOCATION event, I am interested in working for your company. Please find a CV attached and, if you have any potential openings, I would be delighted to be considered’.

Why them?

  • Tell the employer why you are passionate about this particular job role and organisation. 
  • Demonstrate your understanding of the sector and why you are enthusiastic about a career within that field.  
  • Look into their corporate values and see if these align with your own. If so, select a few of them and state how you live by these by providing brief examples.  
  • Is it a small company that focuses on research where you have had experience? Perhaps they have unique training opportunities or their corporate social responsibility resonates with your personal beliefs. 

Why you?

  • Look at the job description or person specification. Give brief examples of how your unique strengths and abilities match the responsibilities within the role. Use action words such as ‘succeeded’ or ‘achieved’ to convey your skills.
  • In your examples, be specific about how those skills will benefit the company or those around you in your team – based on what you know from your research of the company and team.  
  • Ensure your examples relate back to your work experience section within your CV.

Positive summary

  • Thank them for reading your application.  
  • State if you have any time you are not available for interview.  
  • End with ‘Yours faithfully’ if you do not know the name of the person you are addressing the letter to, and ‘Yours sincerely’ if you do have the name. 

Disclosing personal information

You may have a disability or health issue. It is your choice whether you choose to disclose this and when - in your cover letter or when you are invited for an interview.

If you do mention a disability in your cover letter, ensure this is an addition and focus on your skills and experience as this will determine how you would be the ideal candidate for the role.

You could mention past achievements where you have been successful in past employment with strategies relating to your disability. 

Emailing a cover letter

Most job applications are submitted online but some are sent via email. If this is the case, you should copy and paste the body of your cover letter (excluding the date and addresses) into the main body of the text and attach your CV. You may also like to attach a PDF of your full cover letter in case this is printed out for people to view. 

Use a professional email address and one you check for returned email correspondence.  

If you are applying speculatively, the subject field should state the purpose of the email, such as the type of role you are seeking. If you are unsure whether to post or email you could try both. Send the letter in the post with your CV and then send an email follow up a few days later with both your cover letter and CV saying you posted the application early in the week.

Impactful cover letter

This video provides a short summary to creating an effective cover letter.

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