Career choicesWriting a covering letter

Why write a covering letter?

As part of your application for a job, you will need to write a covering letter to accompany your CV - even if you are sending it by email. A covering letter builds on the information given in your CV. Its purpose is to state clearly why this company should employ you and your motivation for the job.

Employers will receive hundreds of letters like yours, so make sure yours stands out from the crowd. The opening paragraph is the most important - it can be make or break for the reader and decides if your CV even gets looked at. So put the same amount of effort into getting your letter right as you put into getting your CV right. Make it sound interesting, focusing on your achievements and strengths rather than just job responsibilities.

Tips:

  • Remember to put your address and contact details in the top right hand corner. Then the employer's address underneath, aligned to the left.
  • Put the job title and reference number, if there was one.
  • Write to a named person - look on the internet or ring the company and find out exactly who you will be dealing with. Then address the letter to them. If you cannot find a name to write to, address the letter to 'Dear Sir'.
  • Include in your letter where you saw the job advertised.
  • Use the first paragraph to say why you were attracted by the advert - show you have done some research into the company and you are really interested in it.
  • Then describe how your skills and experience make you suitable for the job. Highlight relevant information from your CV, but do not just repeat what is already there.
  • Use action words and active verbs such as 'accomplished', 'achieved', 'organised' and 'produced'.
  • If you are writing to a named person, finish the letter 'Yours sincerely'. If you are writing to an unknown person, finish with 'Yours faithfully'.
  • Sign the letter by hand and type your name below your signature.
  • Keep it to one page, breaking up the text into paragraphs and using bullet points if appropriate. It needs to be clear and concise, so the reader can glance through and quickly pick out the main points.
  • Make sure your letter is unique both to you and your prospective employer. Does it need to be very business-like or more creative, for example? Take the opportunity to say the things that do not comfortably fit into your CV. It should be formal - but give a sense of your personality too.
  • Some employers ask for a hand-written covering letter - in which case, make sure your writing is legible and neat.
  • Use black ink and check your spelling, grammar and punctuation.
  • As with a CV, your letter should be clearly presented on good quality A4 plain paper and set out neatly with margins and equal line spacing.

Further information

  • 201 Killer Cover Letters, S. Podesta, The McGraw-Hill Companies (2003)
  • 175 High-Impact Cover Letters, R. Beatty, John Wiley and Sons Incorporated (2002)
  • Cover Letters for Dummies, J. Kennedy, John Wiley and Sons Incorporated (2000)
  • 101 Best Cover Letters, J. Block and M. Betrus, The McGraw-Hill Companies (1999)

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