A cover letter is your opportunity to explain to an employer why you are applying to them, and how your skills, knowledge and experiences fit the role and organisation.
You should communicate effectively to the reader:
- why you want to work in their organisation
- why you want to work in that particular role
- why your strengths, skills and experience make you the right candidate
Ideally your cover letter and your CV will be read together but you can never be sure, so try to make sure they can each stand alone. That means your cover letter should refer to key facts from the CV but should amplify rather than duplicate. Your CV should present more detailed evidence to back up the points you make in the cover letter.
Structure and content
There is no ‘magic formula’ for cover letters, but the following outline can provide a helpful structure. Think of sections rather than paragraphs, since some aspects may require two paragraphs. These sections may appear in different orders for different applications. Keep it to one side of A4.
Always try to find a name, rather than a job title, as it demonstrates that you researched the organisation. ‘Dear Ms Smith’ is much better than ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ (avoid ‘To whom it may concern’). Remember the signing off rule of ‘yours sincerely’ if it is addressed to a named person and ‘yours faithfully’ if not.
Include who you are, your degree subject, university and situation – recently graduated, about to graduate, penultimate year. Explain why you are writing (to apply for X position/looking for work experience) and where you saw the position advertised or, if it’s a speculative application, where you heard about the organisation.
Use this section to tell the employer why you want this particular job, and why them rather than someone else. By showing that you really know about the role and the company you can demonstrate your commitment and enthusiasm. Vague statements and blatant flattery don’t work; instead be specific and illustrate your opinions with some original points. Try this test: if you could remove the organisation’s name and replace it with that of a competitor, and it still makes sense, it’s not specific enough. Researching the organisation through their website, Twitter or LinkedIn profile can help you.
Make it easy for the employer to see why your skills, experience and personal attributes are right for the position by clearly linking them to the requirements of the job. Don’t try to cover all of your experience; just illustrate your selling points with three or four good, specific examples, backed up by evidence.
If you are applying for a job that has been advertised, and you have a person specification for the role, then the covering letter should address that in detail. Make sure you show the employer that you meet their stated requirements.
State your availability for interview and thank them for the time they have taken in reading your application.
End on an optimistic and polite note.
- Presentation – if an application requires a ‘cover letter’ it should be laid out formally as a letter (see example). Keep it clear, well presented and visually attractive. Don’t cram too much on the page. But often you will be sending a covering e-mail rather than uploading or attaching a formal letter, in which case dispense with elements such as addresses at the top.
- Use positive language – ‘power words’ can illustrate your experiences in a really effective way. For example, ‘initiated’, ‘instrumental in…’, ‘succeeded in…’.
- Remember this is an example of your written communication, so make sure you write in a clear, succinct and professional manner.
If you’d like some feedback on your cover letter, why not book a 1-2-1 appointment with a Careers Consultant? Call 020 7882 8533 or visit us in the Queens’ Building Room WG3.