How to write a covering letter. The bane of many people’s lives. But it really doesn’t need to be. Follow our simple tips and yours will stand out from the crowd.
Let’s start with the basics: what is a cover letter?
A cover letter accompanies a CV (and/or completed application form). It can also be the email you send to a prospective employer with your CV attached – the lines are now starting to blur. It's an opportunity to highlight what makes you particularly suited for the job, but most importantly, should highlight your passions and motivations for the job and company in question.
Why you need one
Recruiters get inundated with CVs from hundreds of people who apply for their vacancies, so the cover letter helps make you stand out. Send a good one, and they’ll probably spend more time on your CV.
How to start and end a cover letter
Research the job you’re applying for and find out who the hiring manager will be and address it to them – brownie points for this straight away. This may involve a call to the recruitment team covering the role or you may prefer to do a bit of searching on LinkedIn. Once you have a name you should address the letter to that person and begin the letter, for example, "Dear Ms Jones," and end with "Yours sincerely, <your name>".
If you can’t find the name of the person, but have a job title, such as the HR manager, you should address the letter to the HR manager, and include
"Dear Sir or Madam," and end with "Yours faithfully, <your name>".
You should include the job title of the role you are applying for somewhere clearly – in an email this could well be the subject line, or in a letter it could be in your opening paragraph. We won’t be more specific than this as, for the sake of job-hunting, there are more important things to worry about.
A cover letter should always end positively and look ahead to the next stage, for example, 'I would be happy to provide further information at interview' or 'I look forward to hearing from you'.
The meat of the matter
Always write a new cover letter for each job you go for: recruiters can spot a “copy & paste” job at half a mile. Your cover letter should explain why you are applying for this particular job. You should use it to expand upon areas of your CV that are relevant to the job you are applying for, and link them to your personal motivations. If you have a real interest in the company and its products, or you have certain qualifications that are suitable for this job, then say so. If you believe in the company’s values then tell them. If the role is the ideal next step in your career, explain why. If there is something about you which makes you particularly unique – personal recommendations, previous voluntary experience, or other anecdotes, use them. Remember you need to stand out as being passionate (without seeming desperate) and likeable.
Everything you write should relate directly to the job at hand: they won’t want to know that you like football or watching TV unless the job is about football or TV. And don't just repeat what's on your CV. The covering letter and CV work together, with each filling in the gaps of the other. Use the covering letter to shed additional light on the information on your CV.
Your cover letter should be well-presented and ideally fit onto one page – to a maximum of approximately 400 words. You want to entice the hirer to want to find out more about you, not tell them the whole story up front.
There’s nothing worse than seeing a well-written letter that’s littered with errors. Many recruiters will reject all applications with any spelling errors or typos without a second thought, so don’t let that be yours. This is especially important if you’re going for a job that requires any sort of attention to detail. Check your work thoroughly.
A note on research
We can’t stress the importance of this enough. Before you start, do some research on the company and the job you’re applying for. Things to know include what the company does, their competitors and where they're placed in the market.
Not only will carrying out this research give you the knowledge you require to tailor your cover letter and CV to the style of the company, it also demonstrates that you’ve a real interest in the role and the company itself.
A final thought
Your CV shows you can do the job, your cover letter shows you will do the job. The two should complement each other.