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CVs and cover letters: Cover letters

Set yourself apart from the competition by producing positive and relevant cover letters that directly relate to the job you're applying for

Do I need a cover letter?

A cover letter should always accompany your CV unless you are told otherwise. It allows you to personalise an application and highlight key areas of your CV in more depth.

It can also be called a covering letter.

How do I write a cover letter?

Keep your cover letter brief, while making sure it emphasises your suitability for the job. It can be broken down into the following sections:

  • First paragraph - the opening statement should set out why you are writing the letter. Begin by stating the position you're applying for, where you saw it advertised and when you are available to start.
  • Middle paragraphs - you should use the next two or three paragraphs to explain: what attracted you to this vacancy and type of work; why you're interested in working for the company; and what you can offer to the organisation. Demonstrate how your skills match the specific requirements of the job description.
  • Last paragraph - use the closing paragraph to indicate your desire for a personal interview, while mentioning any unavailable dates. Finish by thanking the employer and say how you are looking forward to receiving a response.

For more information, see our example cover letter.

How should I address my cover letter?

Always try and address you cover letter directly to the person who will be reading it. Bear in mind that you are more likely to receive a reply if you send it to the right person.

Advertised positions will usually include a contact name, but if not, it is worth taking the time to find out who the letter should be addressed to.

11 rules of successful cover letters

With employers often receiving huge volumes of applications for each vacancy, you need to ensure that your cover letter makes a lasting impression.

Here are some rules you'll need to stick to if you want to increase your chances of success:

  • be concise and to the point - keep it to one side of A4;
  • use the same quality plain white paper you used to print your CV;
  • include a named contact whenever possible to show you have sent it to them personally;
  • relate your skills to the job advert and make a case for why the employer should want to meet with you;
  • proofread - always double-check your spelling and grammar without relying on a computer spellcheck program;
  • target the company by tailoring your cover letter for each application;
  • page layout should be easy on the eye, set out with the reader in mind;
  • check to make sure you've got the company name and other key details right;
  • read it and cut out any unnecessary words or sentences;
  • if sending electronically, put the text in the body of the email rather than as an attachment to avoid it being detected by spam filters;
  • stick to your own words, avoiding jargon and formal clichés.

How do I write a cover letter for a job that's not advertised?

A speculative application can sometimes be an effective method of creating a career opening, especially in highly competitive industries.

Carry out some research on the job and the company you are sending your application to. Timing is everything when it comes to the creative career search.

See our example cover letter for a speculative application.

Do I need to explain gaps in my CV?

You must always explain any large gaps in your CV and your cover letter is the place to do so.

This is so a potential employer doesn't misinterpret a break in your career history. If you approach it positively, it shouldn't be an issue.

Reasons for gaps in your CV include:

  • returning to work after a gap year;
  • having children;
  • caring for a sick relative;
  • suffering from a recurring medical condition; and
  • redundancy.

Finish by demonstrating your enthusiasm for the position and add that you are now ready to focus on your career. For an example, see our cover letter explaining a career gap.

Should I disclose my disability in the cover letter?

You not legally required to disclose a disability.

However, you should not lie and say you don't have a disability if you do, as this could mean you lose any potential job offer. If you choose not to disclose a disability in your cover letter then you can do so at a later stage.

See our example cover letter for disclosing a disability.

How do I apply for a job abroad?

Many overseas job offers are dependent on the applicant already being legally allowed to work and live in the country in question.

If you're planning on working overseas, you'll need to go through the correct visa procedures and obtain any work permits that are applicable to the country you wish to work in. For more details, see working abroad.

Most countries will recognise UK qualifications, but you should check to see if there are any comparisons you might need to refer to in your cover letter.

Do some research when writing your cover letter and CV, to ensure that you include everything required by employers in the region of the world where you'd like to work.

If you want to work abroad, take a look at our cover letter of an international student applying for a job in the UK and apply these principles to the country of your choice.

How do I sell my Masters degree to employers?

Employers don't always distinguish between a Masters and Bachelors degree when recruiting. They may value the additional maturity, but it is up to you to explain in your covering letter what skills and knowledge you have gained through this higher qualification.

Present yourself in terms of the extra abilities you have and how this relates to your career goals. For ideas of the subject-specific and general skills you may have gained during your studies see what can I do with my degree?

A Masters also needs to be complemented by relevant work experience, so don't pass on the chance to mention any details of this.

To help sell your qualification to employers see our cover letter written by a Masters graduate.

7 of the worst cover letter mistakes

Your covering letter is an opportunity to show employers how well you express yourself and it should entice them to read your CV. If you want to ensure it is as effective as possible, avoid these common mistakes:

  • failing to address the letter to a named individual at the company;
  • repeating what is written in your CV;
  • forgetting to proofread your letter and sending it full of mistakes;
  • spilling over onto a second page;
  • sharing unnecessary personal details and giving rambling explanations;
  • concentrating too much on your qualifications rather than your skills and experience;
  • failing to target your letter to the specific job you're applying for.
 

Further help

If you are still a student, or recent graduate, you can access your university’s careers and employability service for additional help in this area.

You can also take a look at the following advice pages on:

 
 
Written by Editor, Prospects
Date: 
April 2015
 

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