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.
It may be useful to structure your covering letter by dividing it into the following sections. You can even copy these headings into your letter to give you a starting point, and when you are happy with what you have written, delete them. You can see how this fits within a letter format in the covering letter guideline below.
Section 1: who are you and why are you writing?
If you are sending this letter after having spoken to someone, you could start with something like:
“Further to my recent conversation with Miss Tracy King at the Graduate Recruitment Fair on 21st October, I am pleased to enclose a copy of my CV as she suggested”.
If you haven’t spoken to someone, you could start with something along the lines of:
“I recently saw the position of Graduate Management Trainee advertised on your website, and would like to apply for the role. I have enclosed a copy of my CV as requested”.
Section 2*: why you?
You should explain in a positive and enthusiastic way the things you can offer the company, rather than what you can gain. Avoid phrases such as “I believe I could gain valuable experience with your company”, instead focus on your skills and experience which the employer may benefit from.
For instance, you may want to write something along the lines of:
“having worked for a large supermarket chain during the last two years, I have gained experience of dealing with and resolving customer queries and complaints. I have thoroughly enjoyed this experience, and believe it would be beneficial to your organisation”.
Section 3*: why them?
Avoid generic, non-specific phrases such as “I am applying to you as you are a large multinational company with a great reputation”. Instead explain what it is specifically about this organisation that makes you want to work for them.
“I am particularly interested in clinical trials as I am looking to embark on a career in pharmaceutical research and development, and am specifically interested in your organisation’s current research into drugs to fight cancer”.
If you have been inspired to apply after speaking to someone from the organisation, you could mention it here e.g.
“I recently met one of your representatives at the University of Bradford Careers Fair in October, and became very interested in your organisation, particularly…”
Section 4: the positive ending
End positively, suggesting the next steps. If writing in response to an advertised position, you could state when you are available for interview, or say that you are looking forward to hearing from them. For instance,
“I am particularly interested in this position and hope that you want to learn more about my background. I am available for interview anytime”.
You could then provide details of how you can be contacted e.g.
“If you have any queries, please do not hesitate to contact me either by email at (state email address) or by telephone (07777 123 456). I am available anytime after 3pm”.
If applying speculatively, you could ask for the opportunity to meet e.g.
“I hope you will find my details of interest. Should you feel there might be a suitable opening, now or in the future, I would be pleased to discuss this with you”.
Or if you are planning to follow up with a phone call, you could say when you intend to phone e.g.
“I hope you will find my CV of interest and I will be in touch to arrange a suitable time to speak with you next week”.
*Sections 2 and 3 can be rearranged as necessary. Use your judgement or ask a careers 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).
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)
Below are some examples of covering letters used with applications for graduate jobs. There is also a sample covering letter for part-time work on our part-time jobs page.
- 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.
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