The covering letter is the principal way in which you can demonstrate your understanding of the employing organisation and how you relate to its values, ethos and aspirations. While your CV sets out the skills you have for the post, your covering letter more explicitly presents your motivation and adaptability. A covering letter should:
- demonstrate to the employer your interest in and knowledge of the company;
- highlight particular parts of your CV that are your unique selling points;
- draw attention to additional information that does not fit easily into a CV;
- explain any personal circumstances or anomalies in your application.
Well-written covering letters are also particularly effective for speculative applications outside a recruitment cycle.
- Address your letter to a named person. Especially with speculative applications, you should phone the company and find out the name of the person who deals with recruitment. This will ensure that it reaches the right person. It also gives you a contact name for a follow-up call or email.
- Think from the employer’s perspective rather than your own. Tell them what you can contribute to the organisation rather than how it can benefit you.
- Ideally your covering letter should be no more than one page long and with short and clearly themed paragraphs.
The following format provides a useful overview for a letter:
- Briefly introduce yourself, state what position you’re applying for and where you saw it advertised. For a speculative letter, specify the type of work you’re looking for.
- Explain why you’re interested in this type of work, demonstrating an understanding of what it’s likely to involve.
- Explain why you’re interested in working for this particular employer. Demonstrate enthusiasm and evidence of research into such aspects as their successes, involvements, values or clients.
- Highlight the ways in which you’re suitable for this position. Provide evidence of your key strengths by referring to experience listed on your CV. Aim to show that your key strengths reflect the requirements of the employer and position.
- Take the opportunity, if necessary, to explain any anomalies in your background, such as any time gaps or any ways in which you don’t match the selection criteria. Perhaps explain how any hurdles you’ve encountered have helped you develop in a positive way.
- Indicate availability for interview.
Some ideas when thinking about the layout of your covering letter;
Paragraph one: introduction
- Why are you writing? ’I am writing in response to your job advertisement in the Daily News for the position of trainee marketing assistant’.
- Who are you? ’I will be completing my business and management degree in June, and am very keen to establish a graduate career in marketing’.
- Refer to your graduate CV if it’s enclosed. ’Please find enclosed my CV for your consideration’.
Writing a covering letter
- Address your letter to a named individual. If you’re not sure who the best person to contact is, telephone the company and ask.
- Keep your letter to one side of A4.
- Use a formal business template, showing both your address and the name and address of the recipient.
- Use ’Yours sincerely’ to sign off. Only use ’Yours faithfully’ if you have addressed the letter ’Dear Sir/Madam’.
Paragraph two: why you want the job
- What attracts you to this particular company? Demonstrate that you’ve researched their activities.
- What attracts you to this particular graduate job? Look carefully at the job description and pick out what makes this job especially appealing to you.
- Why do you want to work in this sector? You could refer to relevant experience or study. Does the job make use of your strengths? Is it particularly varied or challenging?
Paragraph three: why the company should be interested in you
- Pick out three or four of the qualities the employer is asking for. What evidence can you give of these?
- Mention relevant experience or study.
Final paragraph: conclusion
- Cover any practical issues. You could refer to when you are available for interview.
- Be positive. Thank the company for considering your application and say you look forward to hearing from them.
It is vital you proofread your covering letter carefully and present it well.
If you are sending your covering letter as an e-mail, a formal style is still important, although you can leave out the addresses at the top of the page.