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Cover Letters | 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 through 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 also 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 your reader with 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 that they have them all. In that case you can exceed one page – but remember that being concise is still important! It demonstrates focus and strong communication skills.

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. Introduce yourself: what you are studying, where and which year you are in, or when you will finish.

Why this job and/or the organisation?

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 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 competencies.  For example:

  • You first demonstrated your organisational skills by creating (an event) at school, and you have developed these 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, use shorter sentences or take out that section completely.
  • Make the letter different each time. If you insert another company’s 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.

 

 

Our resources

Example Cover Letters

Related pages

Books

  • Our Resource Centre has a number of files and books on CV and covering letter writing that you may find useful. Visit the Resource Centre in person to view these resources.
This information was last updated on 09 November 2015.
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