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Cover Letters | The Careers Service Cover Letters – Oxford University Careers Service
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How to write cover letters

Example cover letter

A cover letter introduces and markets you effectively by complementing your CV. It tells your story by highlighting your relevant strengths and motivation for the person and organisation you are writing to, rather than listing all the things that can already be seen on your CV.

Always take the opportunity to submit a cover letter if you are given the opportunity.

The cover letter gives you scope to showcase what interests and drives you, and your enthusiasm for an organisation and the role. You can use it to align yourself with the organisation’s strengths, values and culture, and highlight in a targeted way your knowledge and strongest, most relevant skills for the position.

The content and style are up to you, but a logical and engaging structure is key. Below are some guidelines.

Style

Try to sound professional yet conversational, rather than wordy or too stiff and formal. Write in clear, concise English – take care not to drown the reader with your detail and avoid jargon they may not understand. The Plain English Campaign has some good guidance on improving your writing style.

Content

Layout

Set it out like a business letter. Brevity adds power, so do not exceed one A4 page in length. An exception is if the job has a person specification consisting of a detailed list of skills, and selection is based on applicants demonstrating in this letter that they have them all (i.e. there is no other application form).  In that case you can exceed one page – but remember that being concise and relevant is still important!

Introduction

Introduce yourself and explain why you are writing. If you are responding to an advertisement, state where you saw it. This tells the recruiter why they are reading the letter, and it gives them feedback on which of their advertising sources are working.  You need to think about how you would like to introduce yourself; it could be that you mention the course you are studying and when you plan to finish it along with your place of study.

Why this job?

Explain why you are interested in the job and the organisation. Tailor the letter to the organisation and job description and make it implicit that you have not sent out multiple copies of the same letter to different employers. If you can, say something original about the organisation: don’t just repeat the text from their publicity material.

Draw on your research, especially what you have learnt from speaking with their staff (e.g. whilst meeting them at a fair or event, or during work shadowing/experience) as this will demonstrate an awareness and understanding of them that goes beyond the corporate website. Be specific about why the position is particularly attractive for you, and back this up with evidence from your past, or by linking this to your overall career plans, and what you find exciting about this sector.

Why you?

Explain why you are well-suited to the position. Refer to the relevant skills, experience and knowledge you have and match what you say to the requirements outlined in the job description. Tell your story and highlight key evidence so that you are building on, but not using exactly the same phrases contained in your CV. Make sure you read our webpage on demonstrating you fit the job criteria for more advice.

Even if you think that this position is out of reach, your job is to convince the recruiter that you are qualified enough and able to do the job.  Focus on your accomplishments and the transferable skills that are relevant to the role. State explicitly how you match the job criteria – don’t expect the person reading your letter to infer your skills or experiences for themselves.

Support your claims by referring to examples that are already detailed in your CV. You can make a stronger, more credible case by linking different experiences that highlight similar skills or competences. For example:

  • You first demonstrated your organisational skills by creating (an event) at school, and you  have developed them further by raising (£xx) at last year’s fundraiser and, most recently, by leading (another event) for your Society attended by (number) of people.
  • The role (applied for) would allow you to use your passion for helping others, which has driven your success as College Welfare Officer and the personal sense of achievement gained from working as a peer counsellor.

Conclusion

Reiterate your desire to join the organisation and end on a ‘look forward to hearing from you’ statement, followed by ‘Yours sincerely’ if writing to a named individual, and ‘Yours faithfully’ if you have not been able to find a named contact. Type your name, but also don’t forget to sign the letter if you are printing it out.

Top tips

  • Write to a named person if you possibly can – rather than Dear Sir/Madam.
  • Check your spelling and get someone else to read it over.
  • Check that it says clearly what you want it to say.  Are there any sections that are hard to read or follow? If yes, try to simplify the language, avoid jargon,  use shorter sentences or take out that section completely.
  • Make the letter different each time. If you insert another company name, does the letter still read the same? If so, try to differentiate each letter more!
  • Don’t start every sentence with “I”.
  • Give evidence for all your claims.
  • Be enthusiastic and interested.
  • Don’t repeat your whole CV.
  • A Careers Adviser at the Careers Service can give you feedback on the content and structure of your cover letter and CV, and advise you on how best to target particular sectors – write one first and bring it to us for feedback.
Academic cover letters and statements

Academic Cover Letters

Academic cover letters vary in length, purpose, content and tone. Each job application requires a new, distinct letter.

For applications that require additional research or teaching statements, there is no point repeating these points in a cover letter – here, one page is enough (brief personal introduction, delighted to apply, please find enclosed X, Y, Z documents).

Other applications ask for a CV and a cover letter only, in which case the letter will need to be longer and require more detail. Others ask explicitly for this detail in the form of a supporting statement that sets out how you fulfil the job criteria. Aim for a maximum length of two pages, though for roles at associate professor level and above it may extend to 3-5 pages. In all cases it is important to use the space effectively and show that you can prioritise according to what they are looking for.

In all cases:

  • Your letter is a piece of academic writing – you need a strong argument and empirical evidence
  • Write for the non-expert to prove that you can communicate well
  • Make sure you sound confident by using a tone that is collegial (rather than like a junior talking to a senior)
  • Demonstrate your insight into what the recruiting department is doing in areas of research and teaching, and say what you would bring to these areas from your work thus far

Give quantifiable evidence of teaching, research and funding success where possible

Teaching Statements

What is a Teaching Statement and Why Do You Need One?

When making an academic job application, you may be asked for a teaching statement (sometimes referred to as a ‘philosophy of teaching statement’). These statements may also be requested of candidates for grant applications or teaching awards.

A teaching statement is a narrative that describes:

  • How you teach.
  • Why you teach the way you do.
  • How you know if you are an effective teacher, and how you know that your students are learning.

The rationale behind a teaching statement is to:

  • Demonstrate that you have been reflective and purposeful about your teaching. This means showing an understanding of the teaching process and your experience of this.
  • Communicate your goals as an instructor, and your corresponding actions in the laboratory, classroom, or other teaching setting.

Format and style of a Teaching Statement

There is no required content or format for a teaching statement, because they are personal in nature, but they are generally 1-2 pages, and written in first person. The statement will include teaching strategies and methods to help readers ‘see’ you in a lab, lecture hall, or other teaching setting. The teaching statement is, in essence, a writing sample, and should be written with the audience in mind (i.e. the search committee for the institution(s) to which you are applying). This means that, like a cover letter, your teaching statement should be tailored for presentation to different audiences.

Articulating your teaching philosophy

Consider your experiences as both teacher and learner, and always keep your subject at the forefront. Consider all opportunities that you have previously had to teach, mentor, or guide, and determine instances that were both successful and perhaps not so successful. Understanding why and how learning happens is an important part of your teaching philosophy.

Here are some general areas to focus on in your teaching statement:

Goals: Convey your teaching goals. What would you like students to get out of your courses? What matters most to you in teaching and why?

Strategies: List effective teaching strategies. How will you realise your goals? What obstacles exist to student learning and how do you help students overcome them?

Evidence: Specific examples of your teaching experience are powerful in a teaching statement. Provide evidence that your students have learned (or not) in the past.

Research Statements

Some applications ask for a short research statement. This is your opportunity to propose a research plan and show how this builds on your current expertise and achievements. It forms the basis for discussions and your presentation if you are invited for interview.

Remember to:

  • Tailor each statement to the particular role you are applying for
  • Make sure there are clear links between your proposal and the work of the recruiting institution
  • Write about your research experience stating the aims, achievements, relevant techniques and your responsibilities for each project
  • Write as much (within the word limit) about your planned research and its contribution to the department, and to society more broadly
  • Invest time and ask for feedback from your supervisor/principal investigator or colleagues
Tips for JRF applications

Read the job description carefully to understand what is prioritised by the recruiting College or institution(s) beyond furthering your research.  If there are additional responsibilities such, as outreach, mentoring, expanding or fostering academic networks, you will need to provide evidence of your interest and experience in these areas, as well as statements about how you would fulfil these roles when in post.

Try to meet current JRF holders to gain further insight into what the role entails on a daily basis and what is expected by senior colleagues.

Show how your research contributes to, extends and/or maximises the impact of other work going on in the University. Then state why the JRF would enable you to further these in specific ways.

Give prominence to your publications (and those in progress):

  • use headings in your publications list to draw attention to journal articles (above book chapters), and to distinguish policy papers from expert reviews and public commentaries.
  • consider adding an impact factor or HI index metrics to journal publications (even if these are not high for junior stage publications they show an awareness of their importance).

Outline how you intend to participate in knowledge exchange and public engagement within your fellowship. These activities are now recognised as significant components of academic life.

Give prominence to your grant-writing experience and partnerships or work with people or organisations outside the university.

Look at Vitae’s Research Developer Framework to identify any other academic-related competencies that you could demonstrate in your application (particularly project-management, leadership, developing innovative partnerships/strategic thinking).

Have your application reviewed by a Careers Adviser. Occasionally we are made aware of alumni and other academics who are willing to offer proof-reading services to early-career academics which could extend to research proposals and other application materials. Please email rachel.bray@careers.ox.ac.uk if you would like to be put in touch.

Our resources

Example Cover Letters

This information was last updated on 19 July 2018.
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Recent blogs about Cover Letters

Bar Pro Bono Unit: Caseworker Volunteering Opportunities

Posted on behalf of Bar Pro Bono Unit. Blogged by Annie Dutton on 15/08/2018.

The Bar Pro Bono Unit is the Bar’s national charity, based in the National Pro Bono Centre on Chancery Lane, London, which helps to find pro bono legal assistance from volunteer barristers. They are seeking dedicated and enthusiastic individuals to volunteer as Academic Year Casework Volunteers 

This is a fantastic opportunity to obtain unique exposure to the Bar as a profession and to a wide range of areas of law. By volunteering you  will  learn a great deal about the practical working of the courts and the needs of litigants in person which should complement your studies.

You will be assisting the caseworkers one day per week, over a four month period. Tasks will include:

  • Drafting case summaries, using the case papers provided by individuals who need legal assistance; these case summaries are then used by experienced barristers when reviewing the file.
  • Drafting case allocation summaries which are used to try to find volunteer barristers around the country to take on the case on a pro bono basis.
  • Taking telephone calls from the public and providing updates to existing applicants.

Closing date for applications: Monday 27 August 2018 at 23:00

Requirements

You must have completed at least one year of law-related study or law-related work.

Previous volunteer’s feedback:

“I would strongly recommend to anyone interested in pursuing a legal career to try and spend some time with the BPBU. Not only does it look great on your CV, it also helps you hone crucial skills such as succinctly summarising the key facts of a case and identifying the relevant legal issues, something that should stand you in good stead for any pupillage or training contract interviews. The staff are all wonderfully welcoming and helpful, and whilst a key benefit is the range of areas you will experience (anything from Defamation to Child Protection), they will also accommodate specific requests to see more work in certain areas. Ultimately you are doing genuinely important work that makes a material difference to people’s lives, whilst being supplied with copious amounts of tea and cake. What’s not to like?”

The Student Consultancy Michaelmas Term – apply now!

Blogged by Lili Pickett-Palmer on 14/08/2018.

Consultancy Training in Michaelmas Term…

The Student Consultancy provides you with an exceptional insight into consultancy practice. Across a term, you will work in a team on a real-life business challenge for a client organisation.

Past students have worked with clients including: The Oxford Boat Race, Yellow Submarine, Belu Water, Eco Concierge, Eve, Happen, IBM, Minervation, Modern Art Oxford, Oxfam, Oxford Limited, OxHub, OxFizz, Oxford City Council, Oxford University Library Services, Pegasus Theatre and the Playhouse Theatre plus a range of start-ups.

… but it isn’t just about consulting!

The Student Consultancy can help you prove or improve a wide range of employability skills, some consultancy but also transferable skills including team work, communication, problem solving and business and customer awareness skills. These will be helpful in a huge range of future careers. Many of the students who take part actually do want to be a Management Consultant – which is great, but not a prerequisite! In other words, we don’t mind what you are studying as long as you have the right attitude and interest. Past TSC participants have ranged from 1st years to DPhils and from English to Economics students – with everything in between.

The Careers Service tries to match you to a client in a sector of interest – to provide experience for future applications. Whether you want a career in museums or marketing, or an insight into IT or charities, The Student Consultancy can help.

Apply now

We run The Student Consultancy each term – and applications for the Michaelmas Term 2018 Student Consultancy are now open. We strongly advise applying as soon as you can, as the application window will close once we have a certain number of participants.

To apply please search “Student Consultancy Michaelmas Term 2018” under the opportunities tab of CareerConnect.

For further information, and for mandatory assessment and training dates, please visit The Student Consultancy webpage.

RisingWISE: Empowering Enterprising Women in Science and Engineering

Posted on behalf of RisingWISE. Blogged by Corina Lacurezeanu on 14/08/2018.

RisingWISE is a newly established Oxbridge network that aims to foster long-term relationships between enterprising early-career researchers and women working in industry, to encourage more women to build careers across the science and technology sector.

PROGRAMME AIMS

Our 4-day workshop will bring together approximately 50 women over three weekends to:

  • Inspire and strengthen the Oxbridge WISE (Women in Science and Engineering) network;
  • Improve early-careers researcher’s (ECR) knowledge and understanding of how research works within industry and showing where their skills could apply and explore the different approaches across the two sectors;
  • Create a space for ECRs to meet other women who are already working within industry so that we can: break down barriers, encourage more women to take up internships and secondments within industry and/or work collaboratively on R&D;
  • Offer mentoring and leadership skills development opportunities to women in industry; and
  • Help all participates to enhance their confidence, learning techniques to apply these in their own working environments.

WORKSHOP DATES

  • Weekend 1 (Madingley Hall, Cambridge) – Friday 9 November 2018, 14:00–20:00 and all day Saturday 10 and Sunday 11 November 2018
  • Weekend 2 (Egrove Park, University of Oxford) – Friday 30 November 2018, 15:00–22:00, and all day Saturday 1 December 2018
  • Weekend 3 (Egrove Park, University of Oxford) – Friday 18 Jan 2019, 17:00–22:00, and all day Saturday 19 January 2019

Please note – successful delegate’s travel, accommodation, meals and all training workshops will be funded by the programme.

HOW TO APPLY

The application deadline is Friday 31 August 2018. As this is a pilot programme, spaces are limited. For more information and to apply for this programme please visit, the risingWISE page here

Win £50,000 to kickstart your entrepreneurial journey

Posted on behalf of WorldLabs. Blogged by Polly Metcalfe on 09/08/2018.

Got a bright idea? WorldLabs can help you elevate it!

WorldLabs’ mission is to help ideas develop and grow by providing the funding, tools and connections needed to thrive. Too many promising entrepreneurial projects fall by the wayside due to lack of resources, help or funding.

This is why we created the Elevating Ideas Competition: to give you the ability to showcase your idea, find valuable collaborators and gather the supporters you need to elevate your project to the next level.

  • No idea is too big or too small.
  • Projects can come from any field, and will not be judged based on your level of professional or entrepreneurial experience.
  • The award of £50,000 is designed to give your early-stage entrepreneurial venture an instrumental boost!
  • The best 10 applicants will have the opportunity to pitch at a large start-up conference in October in London.

For further details and to apply (deadline 3 September) visit the WorldLabs website.

LGBTQ+ Investment Banking Insight

Posted on behalf of Diversity Solutions. Blogged by Polly Metcalfe on 01/08/2018.

When: 13 September 2018

Where: Central London. Reasonable travel expenses within the UK (up to £75) will be reimbursed.

To apply: Submit your CV and a covering letter as soon as possible through the Inside & Out Website. 

Inside & Out is an investment banking insight event for first and second year LGBTQ+ undergraduates of all degree disciplines (i.e. finishing studies in 2020 and 2021).

A career in investment banking is highly competitive and extremely challenging, so it’s important that you have a strong academic background. If you are to attend, you should have achieved good grades at A-level (120+ UCAS Points or equivalent if you completed A-Levels in 2017 and earlier). Of course we will take any mitigating circumstances you provide into account. Because of the wide range of careers we offer, we welcome applications from all degree disciplines, so you don’t have to be studying a traditional finance-related subject to apply. What you will need is a real desire to find out all you can about the industry and the wide range of intern and full-time opportunities on offer.

The participating firms are:

  • BNP Paribas
  • Citi
  • Deutsche Bank
  • Goldman Sachs
  • HSBC
  • J.P. Morgan
  • Morgan Stanley
  • Nomura
  • Royal Bank of Canada
  • Bank of America Merrill Lynch

The day will include a number of sessions, including a welcome speech from our supporters Stonewall and a networking session with representatives from the aforementioned firms.

Any issues? Queries? Email the organisers at events@staffordlong.co.uk and we’d be more than happy to help!

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