How to write a cover letter
Many job adverts will ask for a cover letter to be sent along with your CV or application. You won’t know which document employers will look at first, so it’s important to spend time crafting each one. These guidelines are designed to help you start writing your cover letter and can be used alongside our Sample Cover Letter (PDF 116KB) and Cover Letters How to guide (PDF 76KB)
As with your CV, your cover letter should be tailored to each role you apply for. Researching the role and the company is essential. This will support you to decide what skills and experience to highlight.
There is no such thing as a template cover letter as the information you need to share will vary depending on the job and employer. Instead we recommend you approach your cover letter by considering these guidelines.
- Your cover letter should add an additional layer of detail. Try to avoid simply listing out information as it appears on your CV
- Employers will read your letter very quickly. You will need to demonstrate at the very beginning of the document that this is a bespoke letter you have crafted for this job
- The focus of the letter should be on what you will bring to the role and the company. Avoid simply writing about how you will benefit from working for them
- Focus on the most relevant skills and experience you have and provide evidence of your ability to use these skills effectively
- To do this tell short stories that describe situations where you used a particular skill. Always highlight the positive outcomes of your efforts
- Use the same language and tone as the job advert and the company’s website
You will need to make an impact while keeping your letter short and to the point. Structuring your letter using these guidelines can support you to do this.
- Address your cover letter to a named individual, rather than ‘Dear Sir/Madam’, wherever possible. Check if a named person is mentioned in the advert or contact details provided
- You can also contact the company directly to ask who you should address it to. Or use LinkedIn to research the most appropriate person
- Use the first paragraph to state the role you are applying for and the company name. Then include a specific compliment about the company, to highlight the research you’ve done
- Use the following two paragraphs to demonstrate that you have the skills and experience required for the role. Do this by telling stories based on your previous experience
- Your final paragraph should summarise your suitability for the role in a single sentence
- Finish by directing them to any additional information, such as an online portfolio, and give them the option of contacting you for further information
- If the advert mentions a start date, it may also be a good idea to state that you will be available from that date, or immediately, if that is the case
- If you have addressed the letter to a specific person, end the letter with 'Yours sincerely'. If you have not addressed it to a named individual, end it with 'Yours faithfully'
The term ‘cover letter’ is somewhat misleading as it is unlikely you will post this letter to an employer. Instead you will probably send it online. Your document does not have to be formatted like a traditional letter. However, it still a formal document so, consider these guidelines:
- Include your name, email and contact number on the document. It may be appropriate to replicate the same formatting you used on your CV
- Any design decisions you have made on other documents, such as your CV or portfolio should be replicated here to create a coherent suite of documents
- Your letter should be no longer than a single page. Generally, you will have space for approximately 400 words
- You can copy and paste the job title or company name into your letter to ensure the correct spelling. However, make sure you match the formatting with the rest of your letter
- When emailing your cover letter, send it as an attachment if stated. Otherwise you can send it as the body of the email, though this will limit the control you have over the formatting
- When sending it via email make sure you type the details of the role you are applying for in the email subject line
Speculative cover letters
A speculative cover letter is one which you decide to send out independently, rather than in response to a job advert. The same guidelines apply to speculative cover letters. However, you will need to explain in more detail why you are getting in touch, as they won’t be expecting your letter.
Speculative applications work best when you have a specific reason for thinking the company will benefit from hiring you. For example, perhaps you heard through your network that they were recently awarded a big commission. This suggests they may soon be looking to take on new staff with the skills you possess. This would be the perfect opportunity to send a speculative cover letter, accompanied by a tailored CV.
Don’t be afraid to send out well thought-out speculative applications as being proactive is an important aspect of job hunting.
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