Try to sound professional yet conversational, rather than wordy or too 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.
Set it out like a business letter. Brevity adds power; aim for no longer than side of A4 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. In that case you can exceed one page – but remember that being concise and relevant is still important!
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. Try to 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. while 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.
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 your CV, but not using exactly the same phrases. Make sure you read our guidance 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. In other words, show don’t tell!
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.
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.
- Write to a named person if you possibly can - rather than ‘To Whom It May Concern’.
- If you have not been able to find a named contact, you could use ‘Dear Recruitment Manager’ or ‘Dear Recruiter’.
- 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 tailor your cover 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.
- It’s normal to find cover letters tricky to write. Give yourself plenty of time before the application deadline to redraft.
- 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, book an appointment on CareerConnect and ask a careers adviser for feedback.