Writing a Covering Letter

Your CV is ready to go. Now all you have to do is write that most essential part of the application, the covering letter.

The covering letter is far more than just a note saying "Please find enclosed my CV". In reality, this is the part of your application that really sells you to your potential employer and shouts out: Me! Me! You want me!? louder than anyone else's letter.

Without a good covering letter, your CV is unlikely to be read.

The Golden Rule of Covering Letter Writing

  • Your covering letter must be tailored to the sector, to the employer, and to the job.
  • You cannot cut and paste successfully from a previous application, so don't try. Your covering letter needs to demonstrate that you understand the needs of this company, and this particular post, so it has to be written with the job in mind.
  • The only possible exception is if you are making a number of speculative applications to very similar organisations in the same sector, wanting the same kind of work. But even then, it's best to tailor your covering letter, at least slightly.

Writing a cover letter

Do your research

Show how much you want this job by fully researching the company, the sector and the role online. Your knowledge will then come through in your letter.

Keep to the point

A good cover letter is short and worth reading, because it adds to your application rather than repeating it. So keep it to a page, and aim for around 200 words or so.

Lay it out correctly

If you're applying by email, you can either paste the main paragraphs in to your email or send your cover letter as an attachment. Formal letters follow a set layout: your name, address and contact details top right, the employer's name and address on the left, followed by the date. Start your letter "Dear [name]" and end it "Yours sincerely", with your signature.

Follow a structure

Aim for three or four paragraphs with the following information:

  • The job you're applying for
  • The documents you're enclosing (your CV, application form, portfolio, test)
  • Why you want to do the job, and work for this company
  • Why they should hire you: your skills and experience
  • When you can start - and an explanation of any gaps in your CV, or other issues

And finish by thanking the addressee for their time, and a hope that you'll be called for interview.

Make it stand out

Remember that your cover letter is the first thing that you'll be judged on. So think about how you can make it stand out, and even be an interesting read. Perhaps you can cut some waffle, and make your personality and enthusiasm come through more. Be sure that you've shown how much you know about the company and its activities.

Keep it error free

Check your draft for spelling mistakes and grammatical errors. If you're not confident about either, get someone else to read it. In very competitive recruitment processes, mistakes can get your application put to the bottom of the pile.

Useful to know