A covering letter usually accompanies a CV and can be used for applications by post or online. If an advert asks you to ‘apply in writing’ or ‘send your CV’, you should also send a covering letter.
The purpose of the covering letter is to get the reader to look at your CV by introducing and highlighting some of your key selling points. It is also your opportunity to give more detail about some of the points of your CV. Your letter will form the employer’s opinion of you as a candidate before they have even met you, so make sure it is written to create a positive impression of yourself.
Covering letter guideline
Here are our suggestions on the key sections to help you write and lay out your covering letter. Your letter should be limited to one side of A4 with short paragraphs to make it easy to read. It should be laid out in a professional business style format and if sending with a CV it needs to look like a professional package - your covering letter should have the same style and size of font as your CV, and use the same paper for both.
Dear (Name of person applying to e.g. Ms Berry or Sir or Madam),
RE: JOB TITLE OF ROLE APPLYING FOR (plus Reference number if relevant)
Speculative letters also need a title e.g. ‘CIVIL ENGINEERING PLACEMENT OPPORTUNITIES 2017/18’
Section 1 – This should be where you clearly state what position you have applied for – if you choose not to list it as shown above. You may find it useful to say where and when you saw it advertised, or if a speculative application what type of role you are seeking. You can inform the employer at this point of the degree/course title you are studying/have studied, how relevant to the role applied for and possibly your classification if graduated. Maybe also let them know that your CV is attached for their information.
Section 2* – This is really your opportunity to sell yourself to the role by showing what it is that you have to offer that makes you an ideally suited candidate and one that they must progress to the next stage of selection. To do this, you should address the key requirements of the role by highlighting what relevant skills, qualities, qualifications and work experience you have to offer the organisation. Employers prefer applicants to give specific evidence showing how they have a particular skill. For example, if the advert specified someone with good influencing skills: “Last summer, I worked for a market research company where on one Saturday, I successfully persuaded over 40 shoppers to stop and answer questions relating to their buying habits, despite their initial reluctance”. Do not directly repeat what is on your CV but pull out the points the employer will be most interested in.
Section 3* – This is your chance to say what particularly attracts you to the organisation to which you are applying. It is essential you show that you have carried out research and thought about why you are applying. It is a chance to show that you know what they do and possibly what particular projects or work the organisation is doing that attracts you to them. Re-read the job advert, check out the website, company literature and any relevant articles and journals. Don't mention salary, holidays, etc. - concentrate on the strengths and successes of the organisation such as their goods, services, research etc.
Section 4 – Try to finish off your letter on a positive note; there are many ways to do this. Suggestions include “I hope you will find my details of interest, however, if you have any queries then please do not hesitate to contact me on the above number. I look forward to hearing from you in the near future.”
Yours sincerely, (if you started with “Dear Name e.g. Ms Berry”) Yours faithfully, (if you started with “Dear Sir or Madam”)
Space for your signature (unless sending electronically; or scan your signature if you wish)
Your name (in full, not initials)
*Sections 2 and 3 can be rearranged as necessary. Use your judgement or ask a career consultant which order makes your application stronger (the sample covering letter for a graduate scheme below is an example of how to change the order to good effect).
Top tips for covering letters
- Send it to a named person. If you are unsure who this should be, phone the organisation and ask – it is much more likely to be read if sent to a specific person.
- Target the letter to the organisation, and explain why – what makes you passionate about working for them specifically?
- Think of your covering letter as a compelling argument to show how you are the best person for the job – remember, the main aim of the covering letter is to get your CV read.
- Keep it to one page only and use the same font and formatting as your CV.
- Reflect the terminology in the job description and person specification in your writing.
- Always proofread thoroughly. A good idea is to read it out loud or to get a friend to read it for spelling and grammar mistakes. You can also book an appointment with Career and Employability Services to have an adviser look at your letter before you send it off.
- Avoid continual use of “I”. Think about how to phrase your sentences and paragraphs more effectively.
- Don’t forget to sign if sending by post.
Sample covering letter for an advertised job
Sample covering letter for a graduate scheme
Sample CL for a speculative application
Next steps and further information
- Advice: Once you have a draft copy of your covering letter, we recommend you come in to see one of our career consultants who will look through your letter and make suggestions for improvement. See the availability and reserve an appointment online.
- Books: We have a wide range of CV and covering letter resources in our Information Room in Student Central, including specialist reference books (such as The Creative CV Guide, You're Hired! How to write a brilliant CV) & DVDs (e.g. Cover Letters - The Write Approach).
- Workshops: Our regular workshop programme covers a wide range of job-seeking and careers-related topics including CVs and covering letters.
- Our employability skills pages feature information on the skills recruiters are looking for, with examples and advice about how to show you have them.
- Prospects.ac.uk also has good information on covering letters, including some examples.