Your covering letter is a polite and professional introduction that relates your attributes, achievements, and experience to a particular opportunity and organisation.
You should normally send your covering letter (or some form of supporting statement) with your CV.
An employer's perspective
When we read covering letters we look for someone who can demonstrate a strong 'can do' attitude to work.
They might not necessarily have the knowledge, but more important to us is that they are able to articulate their determination to really want to do it.
We also want someone to be confident enough to challenge and also reflect on what they do, as this process is key to self-improvement.
Jane Shepherd, Shepherd PR
Content of a covering letter
Always think carefully about what the employer is seeking and try to shape your own experience around their criteria. As with CV preparation, try and find out which skills and experience are required.
Typically an employer would want to know:
- your qualifications and training, although be careful not to just repeat what’s on your CV
- any relevant work experience - this can include voluntary work and projects
- evidence of certain skills such as teamwork and communication
- evidence of attributes and competencies such as resilience and adaptability
- why their organisation appeals toyou
It’s important that you take time to think why that organisation appeals to you. Show you have undertaken some research on the company and the sector and ask yourself what makes them different to their competitors.
A deeper level of research will improve your applications and also enable you to embed this knowledge at an early stage of the recruitment process.
How to write an effective covering letter
Hayley Gillmore, Students' Union Employability Manager, gives her top tips on writing an effective covering letter when applying for a job vacancy.
Frequently asked questions
What should the format of my covering letter be?
Your covering letter should be well presented, concise and to the point. It should ideally be no longer than one side of A4 using a clear and appropriate size font.
Use these guidelines on letter writing conventions to structure your covering letter.
Who should I address my covering letter to?
Ideally you should address your covering letter to the person who will be reading it.
If you know the recipient’s name, for example Dear Mr Brown, always end with Yours sincerely.
If you don’t know the recipient’s name, for example Dear Sir/Madam, end with Yours faithfully
How much detail should I go into?
You should use specific examples on your covering letter to demonstrate your skills and attributes, try to avoid saying things like ‘throughout my course I worked in teams and developed good teamwork skills’.
Think about specific examples and use the STAR technique to articulate these.
- Situation - Describe the situation
- Task - Explain the task
- Actions - Describe your actions
- Results - Explain the result