The Basics: Cover letters

What is a cover letter?

A cover letter (sometimes called a covering letter or supporting statement) allows you to personalise your job application and explain your CV, explaining your motivation for the job, your enthusiasm for the particular role and, most importantly your understanding of the organisation that you are applying to. You should always send a cover letter with your CV unless you are told otherwise. 

  • It’s a single page letter, which is a tailor-made personal statement for a particular job and organisation.
  • A cover letter is not just a repeat of your CV.
  • The advice below is also applicable when completing an application form and responding to: ‘Please use the space below to indicate why you feel that you are suitable for this post, including details of relevant skills and experience’ (but this will not be addressed to a named individual).

How do I write a cover letter?

Your cover letter should have a clear beginning, middle and end.

Beginning:

  • Address your cover letter to a named contact whenever possible to show you have sent it to them personally. You will usually find these details in the application pack – make sure you have spelt them correctly!
  • A clear introduction – explain who you are (e.g. a recent QMUL graduate), what position you are applying for, and how you heard about the role.

Middle:

  • You need to be clear what the employer is looking for (by reading the job description/person specification) and demonstrate how your skills match their specific requirements. Identify what it is that makes you a good fit for the organisation and evidence this by choosing specific examples outlining the experience you have and why it is relevant. This could be from work experience, your studies or extra-curricular activities.

See our recent posts on developing your skills for some ideas: part 1, part 2 & part 3.

  • Give clear evidence of your motivation for the role and the organisation. Think about what attracts you to the company, and demonstrate that you understand what the job involves. Why do you want to work for this company in particular?  Research the organisation and the sector – the company website, LinkedIn and Twitter are good places to start.
  • Explain what particular aspects of the job are most attractive to you, and why. Always use specific examples to support your statements, and avoid being too vague. The recruiter wants to know why you are the right candidate for the role, so use this opportunity to show your enthusiasm.
  • Make yourself memorable – employers will read a huge number of cover letters at a time, which means that you need to include evidence that will make you stand out.
  • This is also an opportunity to outline and tackle potential problems on your CV (e.g. you changed your degree course). Deal positively with any gaps or weaknesses in your CV, and explain the reasons you may have taken longer to finish your degree by using positive language, i.e. this demonstrates resilience when faced with challenging situations.

End:

  • Reaffirm your suitability for the role and your enthusiasm about the prospect of working for the employer, and state that you look forward to hearing from them.
  • Briefly state your availability for interview and end the letter politely.
  • Don’t forget to sign the letter if you’re sending it by post.

Top tips for a successful cover letter:

  • Avoid copying chunks of text from your CV. You should use your cover letter to highlight relevant skills and experience in your CV, without simply repeating information.
  • Check to make sure you’ve got the company name and other key details correct.
  • Keep it well presented and double check your spelling and grammar! Why not ask someone to check it for you?
  • If sending electronically, it’s a good idea to put the text in the body of the email rather than as an attachment, to avoid it being sent to a junk mail folder. Always check the instructions given, as you may be required to submit it in a particular way.

 

Need some more help?

Careers Tagged: Covering letters and supporting statements (QMUL login required)

Prospects cover letter advice

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