How To Write A Cover Letter

So, you’ve found that job you’ve been lusting after, you know you have all the necessary skills to nail it, but the employer is asking you for a covering letter as well as a CV. Don’t be put off by the idea of having to write a couple of paragraphs about how amazing you are, it’s not as hard as you might think. 

You might already have a CV, and while we’re here, you need to make sure that’s up to date as well. But, what you don’t need to do is just re-write that up in your cover letter, the same person will be reading both so don’t bore them with the same thing twice. Your cover letter should highlight the abilities and experiences that make you stand out as the perfect candidate. You should study the job description to select the skills the employer values the most and talk about those, this means that you need a new cover letter for every application. 

Let’s break down the writing process:

The Research

As I mentioned earlier, research is essential. Before you even begin writing your cover letter you need to make sure that you’re clued up on a couple of things:

  • Who you’re writing to- wherever possible avoid using “Sir/Madam”, try and find out the name of the of person receiving the letter, it should be shown somewhere on the job advert or company website.
  • The skills and experience mentioned in the job description- tailor your letter to the specifics.
  • The company, its competitors and their market position- at the very least give the company a google and find out their mission statement, mention these and show that they align with your core values.
  • Any recent news in the industry- has there been any major breakthroughs or changes? Show that you’re aware of current trends.

This basic understanding of the company and the way it works will help you to customise a cover letter for each job you apply for and emphasises your passion for the job and industry before you’ve even started. 

and The Format

There is a traditional format that you can follow for writing your cover letter each time. You should set it out in four paragraphs and talk about the following:

  • What interests you about the job
  • Your most relevant skills and experiences (emphasis on relevant, a cover letter is not a 2000-word essay, stick to what is recent and relevant, leave your year 9 science award out of this one)
  • How these skills and experiences will benefit the employer
  • The possibility of meeting for an interview

Have a look at our example at the end to show you exactly how to set out the letter.

There are also several other things which are worth mentioning… You need to use a font that is easy to read and professional, you should have dropped comic sans in year 6 and use Times New Roman, Calibri or similar. There’s no need to use any word art or clip art here ether. Some exceptions to this would be a cover letter applying for a job in a creative industry, here it can be ok to go in a bit more with colour or formatting to show your creative flair and individuality. However, if you’re applying for a job in a bank, they’re probably not interested in pictures or poems. 

Your cover letter should be written in clear paragraphs and stick to a reasonable length, you should be aiming for about half a page of A4, one side of A4 is the absolute maximum. Don’t try and cheat your way out of this by using huge or tiny font sizes, stick to around size 12. Similarly, don’t make the margins tiny just so you can fit in that you won a spelling bee in primary school. You really need to keep everything relevant to the role, especially if you think you have a lot to talk about.  If you’re struggling to beef it up feel free to talk more about the company, tell the employer what excites you about the sector and show that you already know current industry news even if you don’t have tonnes of experience.

Formatting is really quite important in your cover letter as it is a formal letter, when you’re writing the date, use 2 July 2019, not 2/7/19. Similarly, there are ways of addressing and closing a letter that need to follow. Start your letter with Dear [Employer’s Name], and sign off with Yours Sincerely followed by your name. If you don’t know the name of the employer (and you’ve tried your hardest to find out) then just use Dear Sir/Madam, and sign off with Yours Faithfully. This is all basic letter writing etiquette that we all need to get used to using! 

Please proofread your letter! I get it, you just want to send it off after looking at it all day and you think there can’t possibly be anything else that’s wrong with it, but a they’re in place of a there or a to not a two makes you look sloppy and like you’re not that bothered, and we both know that this is the job of life time. Show you’re serious and proofread your cover letter.

Another key mistake is going in on the buzzwords. An independent self-starter, go-getter with a concrete track record, is likely to get a groan from the employer who’s read that 1000 times before. At this point, they’re just empty adjectives which have no real meaning behind them. Some other options you could include: innovative, adaptable, reliable and accurate. 

Don’t feel the need to include a photo with your cover letter. Really, what is the employer meant to do with the fact that you got your hair cut last week and oh, are they new glasses? Don’t waste space by putting your profile picture on there, it’s not in the slightest bit relevant. 

Sometimes, you’ll be contacting companies to find out if they have any vacancies, and this means that the format will be slightly different to that outlined below. This is the approach you’ll probably take if you’re applying for some work experience or an internship, it’s called a cold-contact cover letter. You should still address the letter formally, and try to find out who the hiring manager is. As there is no job description to go off, you should use your opening paragraph to explain why you’re writing to them and what drew you to their company. If the reason for your application is a recommendation from someone who already works there, you should include their name here too. Don’t forget to refer to the area of the business that you’re interested in e.g. marketing or HR.  

The main body should remain very similar, highlighting skills and giving examples. Talk about their sector and what made you want to work for them and their business. In this type of cover letter, you also need to make sure that you thank them for their time and let them know that you’d be interested in hearing from them with any suitable vacancies they might have.

Right, so once that winning cover letter is written you just need to send it off! Easy? Don’t forget these next few tips.. 

In 2018 it’s likely that you’ll be applying online or via email. If you just need to send your CV and cover letter as an attachment in an email then write it up in a word processor as outlined below and make sure you save it as a PDF. There’s little point in even bothering to send your stunning cover letter if you wrote it in Word and the employer is trying to open it in Pages. It’s unlikely they’ll take the time to chase you up for a compatible copy either, so make sure you get it right first time. 

If you’re sending your cover letter as the actual body text of the email then pay attention to the subject line of your email, use Application for [Job Title] – [Your Name], to stop any confusion and make it easy for the employer. Include a reference number here too if you have one.

This all being said, if you are using your email address to apply, ditch that secondary school, it’s time to get a new email, try your full name or your full name followed by your birth year if it’s unavailable, is a good start. It’s worth noting that changing an E for a 3 or an I for a 1 is not clever, it makes your email harder to remember and means that if you do get that important email back, it will probably end up going to the wrong address anyway. Keep it simple.  And, if you are sending it by post (are we living in the 90s?) then you should sign the letter by hand to add a personal and more professional touch. 

Now you know all the top tips to create your sensational cover letter, have a look at our example below and get writing! 

Cover Letter Example:

[Write your address here]

[Address Line 2]

[Address Line 3]

[Your phone number goes here]

[The company name and address goes here]

[Address Line 2]

[Address Line 3]

[Put the date here]

RE: [Put the job title or reference number here]

Dear [Employer’s name or Sir/Madam if unknown]

Paragraph 1: Why are you writing this letter?

Your opening paragraph should be brief and to the point, what you need to do here is explain why you’re writing to the employer. You should also include where you found out about the job and, if someone else referred you for the job, mention them here too.

Example: I am writing to apply to apply for the role of Customer Assistant, in response to the post advertised on on 17 July 2018. Please find enclosed my CV for your consideration.

Paragraph 2: Why are you the right candidate?

In this section, you should expand on your CV and give a brief summary of the relevant skills or education you have. This is where you should ensure that you’re using the phrasing that is used in the job description to really show the employer that you have the exact skills they’re looking for.

Example: As you can see from my attached CV, I have been heavily involved with my university Medicine Society throughout my first two years at university and I believe that the knowledge and skills built up during this time make me the perfect candidate for the role.

Paragraph 3: What can you do for the company?

This is your opportunity to really show what you will bring to the company and what you can do for them. Expand of the best parts of your CV in this section. Demonstrate your knowledge of the industry and go into detail about why you want to work for their company specifically. 

Example: In my current role as Social Secretary of the Medicine Society at the University of Newcastle, I am responsible for organising social events throughout the year. As a result of the Fresher’s events in 2017, MedSoc saw a membership increase of 55% on the previous year’s figures. This helped the society increase its popularity on campus and increased revenue.

Paragraph 4: Reiterate. 

Here’s where you restate your interest in the role and why you would be the right candidate for the role. You can also indicate that you’d like to meet for an interview or are available for a phone call. 

Example: I am enthusiastic about furthering my venture into retail and would relish the experience to build upon my previous experience and am confident that I can start actively contributing to your business as soon as possible. 

Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to meeting with you to discuss my application further.

Yours Sincerely (use Yours Faithfully if you used Sir/Madam above),

[Your Name typed with a signature above]


Post by Olivia Greaves

Olivia is a Politics student at the University of Southampton. Follow her on twitter @oiiviagreaves (