To give your job application the best possible chance of success you need to know how to write a relevant and concise cover letter. Take a look at our examples for inspiration
What is a cover letter?
A cover letter is a document sent alongside your CV when applying for jobs. It acts as a personal introduction and helps to sell your application. A cover letter is necessary as it gives you the chance to explain to an employer why you're the best candidate for the job. You do this by highlighting relevant skills and experience; therefore you should always write your cover letter with the position you're applying for in mind.
Cover letters should complement your CV but not duplicate it. The general consensus among recruiters when it comes to the length of these documents is the shorter the better. Typically three to five short paragraphs, cover letters should not exceed one A4 page. If sending electronically, put the text in the body of the email rather than as an attachment, to avoid it being detected by spam filters.
Applications should always include a cover letter unless the job advert instructs you differently.
How to write a cover letter
Keep your cover letter brief, while making sure it emphasises your suitability for the job. It can be broken down into the following sections:
- First paragraph - The opening statement should set out why you're writing the letter. Begin by stating the position you're applying for, where you saw it advertised and when you are available to start.
- Second paragraph - Cover why you’re suitable for the job, what attracted you to this type of work, why you're interested in working for the company and what you can offer the organisation.
- Third paragraph - Highlight relevant experience and demonstrate how your skills match the specific requirements of the job description. Summarise any additional strengths and explain how these could benefit the company.
- Last paragraph - Use the closing paragraph to round up your letter. Reiterate your interest in the role and indicate your desire for a personal interview. Now is the time to mention any unavailable dates. Finish by thanking the employer and say how you are looking forward to receiving a response.
How to address a cover letter
Always try and address your cover letter directly to the person who will be reading it. Bear in mind that you're more likely to receive a reply if you send it to the right person.
Advertised positions usually include a contact name, but if not, it is worth taking the time to find out who the letter should be addressed to. You can do this by searching the company’s website for details of the hiring manager or alternatively you could call the organisation to ask who you should address your letter to. Don't be afraid to do this, many employers will appreciate you taking the time and initiative to do so.
If you're struggling to find a named contact you can use a general salutation such as:
- Dear Sir/Madam
- Dear Hiring manager
- Dear Human resources director.
However, general greetings should only be used once you have exhausted methods of finding a named contact. How you sign off your cover letter depends on how you addressed it. If you include a named contact sign off 'yours sincerely'. If you use a general one finish with 'yours faithfully'.
Example cover letters
6 tips for the perfect cover letter
With employers often receiving lots of applications for each vacancy, you need to ensure that your cover letter makes a lasting impression for the right reasons. Here are some tips to increase your chances of success:
- Be concise - Ideally a cover letter should take up half a page of A4 or one full page if necessary. Read through the document and cut out any unnecessary words and sentences. Don't fill up available space by repeating what's already covered in your CV.
- Tailor to the organisation - You should rewrite your cover letter every time you apply for a position in order to target the individual company. Sending out a generic letter for all applications rarely yields positive results and recruiters can spot your lack of time and effort from a mile away.
- Proofread - Never rely on a computer spellcheck program to pick up every mistake. Print off your cover letter and double-check for spelling and grammar errors before passing it to family member or friend to look over. Also make sure that your own contact details and the company name are correct.
- Format - Presentation is important so you'll need to format your cover letter properly. Make sure the document is as uncluttered as possible, use the same font and size as you use in your CV and if you're sending it through the post or handing it in use good quality plain white paper to print it on.
- Identify your USPs - They're your unique selling points. Be positive about what you have to offer and clearly outline how your skills and experience meet those requested in the job description. Demonstrate why you’re the perfect candidate.
- Include examples - Back up the claims in your cover letter with real evidence or examples that show how and when you've used your skills and experience.
Find out more
If you're a student or recent graduate you can make an appointment with your university's careers and employability service to access further help when writing your cover letter. You'll be able to talk with specially-trained advisers, get advice on what to include and have a professional eye look over your application before sending.
Written by Jemma Smith, Editor
Prospects · April 2017
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by Amber Rolfe
Behind every CV is a good cover letter…
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 recruiters, you also need to do it a clear and concise manner – that ultimately persuades the reader to want to meet you.
We’ve already covered what a cover letter is, but here’s our step-by-step guide to help you get started on writing one:
Do your research
First things first, you need to do your research.
Take some time to look into the role you’re applying for and the company – and use this information to tailor your cover letter accordingly.
Here are a few key things you should find out before you start writing:
- What does the company do?
- Who are their competitors?
- Who are their target audience?
- What does the role involve?
- What are the essential skills?
Once you’ve found answers to these questions, you’ll be able to make it clear in your cover letter how your skills and abilities match up with what the employer is looking for.
Not only will doing research give you the knowledge you need to tailor your cover letter and CV to the style of the company, it also demonstrates that you’ve got a real interest in the specific role and company.
Cover letter help
How to format a cover letter
Your cover letter should be well-presented, concise, and to-the-point.
So use an easy-to-read font, and don’t get carried away with embellishments. No pictures, no Comic Sans, and definitely no word art necessary.
Aside from ensuring its written using clear paragraphs – it also should be the right length. Too long, and you’ll risk rambling (and/or boring the recruiter); but too short, and you’re unlikely to have covered everything.
Aim for half a side of A4 (or one page maximum), and you’ll be on the right track.
Five things you need to stop doing on your cover letter
How to address a cover letter
Cover letters should be addressed to the person dealing with the applications.
Usually, this will be shown somewhere in the job advert – and if not, don’t be afraid to find out. Start by visiting the company’s website to track down the name of a relevant recipient, and if you have no luck there – there’s no harm in simply calling and asking.
Not only will you be able to address your letter accurately, you’ll also demonstrate your initiative and genuine interest in the role.
If you manage to find a name – address with ‘Dear Mr Smith/Dear Ms Jones’.
And if you don’t? ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ will suffice.
How to structure a cover letter
Although there are no set rules on how your cover letter should be structured, making sure it flows well is vital if you want to impress recruiters.
Here’s a rough guideline of how your cover letter should look:
Opening the letter – Why are you getting in touch?
The opening paragraph should be short and to the point, explaining why you’re getting in touch. It’s also useful to include where you found the ad i.e. as advertised on reed.co.uk. If someone referred you, mention their name in this section.
Example: I wish to apply for the role of IT Manager, currently being advertised on reed.co.uk. Please find enclosed my CV for your consideration.
Second paragraph – Why are you suitable for the job?
Briefly describe your professional and academic qualifications that are relevant to the role and ensure you refer to each of the skills listed in the job description.
Example:As you can see from my attached CV, I have over three years’ experience in the IT Industry, and I believe the knowledge and skills built up during this time make me the perfect candidate for the role.
Third paragraph – What can you do for the company?
Now’s your opportunity to emphasise what you can do for the company. Outline your career goals (making it relevant to the position you’re applying for) and expand on pertinent points in your CV – including examples to back up your skills.
Example: In my current role as Senior Marketing Executive at Software Company X Ltd, I have been responsible for increasing incoming client enquiries for our B2B product lines by 156% in under 12 months, which helped the business increase its revenue by 55% year-on-year.
Fourth paragraph – Reiterate
Here’s where you reiterate your interest in the role and why you would be the right fit for the role. It’s also a good time to indicate you’d like to meet with the employer for an interview.
I am confident that I can bring this level of success with me to your company and help IT Company LTD build upon their reputation as one the UK’s fastest-growing software houses. With my previous experience and expertise, I believe I can start actively contributing to the business as soon as possible.
Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to meeting with you to discuss my application further.
Closing the letter
Sign off your cover letter with ‘Yours sincerely’ (if you know the name of the hiring manager), or ‘Yours faithfully’ (if you don’t), followed by your name.
How to: Overcome common cover letter problems
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