An essential part of any job application, a cover letter needs to be attention grabbing and concise. Take a look at our examples for inspiration and discover how to write a winning cover letter

What is a cover letter?

A cover letter is a document sent alongside your CV when applying for jobs. It acts as a personal introduction and helps to sell your application. A cover letter is necessary as it gives you the chance to explain to an employer why you're the best candidate for the job. You do this by highlighting relevant skills and experience; therefore you should always write your cover letter with the position you're applying for in mind.

Not to be confused with personal statements for your CV, cover letters should complement your CV but not duplicate it. The general consensus among recruiters when it comes to the length of these documents is the shorter the better. Typically three to five short paragraphs, cover letters should not exceed one A4 page.

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.

Applications should always include a cover letter unless the job advert instructs you differently.

How to 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're writing the letter. Begin by stating the position you're applying for, where you saw it advertised and when you are available to start.
  • Second paragraph - Cover why you're suitable for the job, what attracted you to this type of work, why you're interested in working for the company and what you can offer the organisation.
  • Third paragraph - Highlight relevant experience and demonstrate how your skills match the specific requirements of the job description. Summarise any additional strengths and explain how these could benefit the company.
  • Last paragraph - Use the closing paragraph to round up your letter. Reiterate your interest in the role and indicate your desire for a personal interview. Now is the time to mention any unavailable dates. Finish by thanking the employer and say how you are looking forward to receiving a response.

Once finished read through the document and cut out any unnecessary words and sentences. Don't fill up space by repeating what's already covered in your CV.

How to address a cover letter

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

Advertised positions usually include a contact name, but if not, it is worth taking the time to find out who the letter should be addressed to. You can do this by searching the company's website for details of the hiring manager or alternatively you could call the organisation to ask who you should address your letter to. Don't be afraid to do this, many employers appreciate you taking the time and initiative to do so.

If you're struggling to find a named contact you can use a general greeting such as:

  • Dear Sir/Madam
  • Dear Hiring manager
  • Dear Human resources director.

However, general greetings should only be used once you have exhausted methods of finding a named contact.

How you sign off your cover letter depends on how you addressed it. If you include a named contact, sign off 'yours sincerely'. If you use a general greeting, finish with 'yours faithfully'.

Example cover letters

  • Sample cover letter - Used to highlight your skills and experience and to express your suitability and passion for the job, cover letters are used to encourage recruiters to look at your CV. Bear in mind that they should provide additional information so avoid repeating anything that can be found in your CV. Attention to detail is crucial and spelling, grammar and formatting needs to be spot on. Take a look at our sample cover letter for inspiration on how to craft the perfect document.
  • Speculative cover letter - Speculative applications can sometimes be an effective method of creating an opportunity. To ensure that speculative cover letters are successful you'll need to do your research on the company you're applying to. Employers will expect your cover letter to detail why you want to work for the organisation and evidence relevant skills and experience. It's important for you to focus on what you can do for the company, rather than what the company can do for you. Using our cover letter template, discover what to include in speculative applications.
  • Cover letter by a Masters graduate - You probably embarked on a Masters to expand your subject knowledge, gain industry contacts and improve your job prospects but to really make it work you need to know how to sell your postgraduate qualification to employers. While your CV states your level of qualification, your cover letter gives you the chance to explain how and why your further study makes you the perfect candidate for the job. Highlight additional skills and abilities gained from your course and don't forget to include relevant placements and work experience.
  • Cover letter for a jobseeker with no experience - It can be tough applying for a job with no experience under your belt but our example cover letter shows you how to promote yourself to an employer if you haven't got any directly related work experience. Remember not to sell yourself short. Any experience is useful and transferable, this includes hobbies, extra curricular activities such as clubs and societies, volunteering and part-time work - the trick is to figure out what it taught you and how you can relate this to the job you're applying for.
  • Explaining a gap in your CV - Knowing how to navigate around large gaps in your CV can be tricky but it's a mistake to try and gloss over them. Your cover letter is the perfect place to explain these gaps in your employment history to potential employers. Prioritise highlighting relevant skills and experience but reserve some space to briefly explain the gap to ensure it isn't misinterpreted. Tell the employer what you did during this time but focus more on what you learned from the experience. Take a look at our sample cover letter to find out how to go about it.
  • Cover letter for changing career - Find out how to explain a change of direction in our example cover letter for career changers. You'll need to cover why you want to change career (briefly - save the nitty-gritty for your interview) and relate your past experience and wealth of skills to the industry/job you’re applying to. Wrap up by outlining how the company can help you make the career change and what you can bring to the organisation.
  • Cover letter by an international graduate - If you'd like to expand your horizons by working 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. While your cover letter will need to include information on relevant skills and experience and your suitability for the role you might need to complete additional tasks. For example, do you need to refer to qualification comparisons or get your cover letter translated to the native language?
  • Disclosing a disability - Just like your gender, marital status and dependants your disability doesn't affect your ability to do a job and you're not legally required to disclose it on your CV or in your cover letter. However, if you would like to disclose a disability to outline any adjustments you may need, this sample cover letter will show you how. If you'd prefer to talk about your disability in person you'll get the opportunity to do so at the interview stage. Remember - it's against the law for employers to discriminate against you due to a disability. If you'd prefer not to disclose you don't have to.

5 tips for the perfect cover letter

With employers often receiving lots of applications for each vacancy, you need to ensure that your cover letter makes a lasting impression for the right reasons. Here are some tips to increase your chances of success:

  1. Tailor to the organisation - You should rewrite your cover letter every time you apply for a position in order to target the company. Sending out a generic letter for all applications rarely yields positive results and recruiters can spot your lack of time and effort from a mile away.
  2. Proofread - Never rely on a computer spellcheck program to pick up every mistake. Print off your cover letter and double-check for spelling and grammar errors before passing it to a family member or friend to look over. Also make sure that your own contact details and the company name are correct.
  3. Format - Presentation is important so you'll need to format your cover letter properly. Make sure the document is as uncluttered as possible, use the same font and size as you use in your CV and if you're sending it through the post or handing it in use good quality plain white paper to print it on.
  4. Identify your USPs - They're your unique selling points. Be positive about what you have to offer and clearly outline how your skills and experience meet those requested in the job description. Demonstrate why you're the perfect candidate.
  5. Include examples - Back up the claims in your cover letter with real evidence or examples that show how and when you've used your skills and experience.

If you're a student or recent graduate you can make an appointment with your university's careers and employability service to access further help when writing your cover letter. You'll be able to talk with specially-trained advisers, get advice on what to include and have a professional eye look over your application before sending.

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