Your covering (or cover) letter is a polite and professional introduction that accompanies your CV when applying for an advertised vacancy or enquiring about potential job opportunities in a company.
- It builds on two or three key pieces of information within your CV and expands them by explaining in more depth how those skills and experiences match the job role.
- Use the covering letter to show you are keen to work for the company by demonstrating that you have researched the organisation thoroughly.
A well-written and researched covering letter, sent alongside a targeted CV will help you secure you an interview.
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.
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.
Jane Shepherd, Shepherd PR
How long should my covering letter be?
Length and Font
Your covering letter should be well presented, concise and to the point. It should ideally be no longer than one side of A4. It's a good idea to pick a modern font such as Calibri or Sans serif, font size 11 or 12 - it's advisable to use the same font as your CV.
How should I attach or send my cover letter?
Emails and covering letters
When applying for a position by email, you can either use the email itself as a covering letter and attach your CV, or write a brief email message and attach a separate covering letter as well as your CV. If you choose this option, your email should be professional in style.
If you attach a CV and covering letter to your email, avoid repeating information in the email which is in your covering letter. The email should be brief and professional, referring to your CV and covering letter attached.
When attaching your CV and cover letter, ideally do this in PDF so it’s readable on any device. Also remember to name the file appropriately, such as ‘your name’, ‘date’ ‘company name you’re applying to’. First impressions count even down to the little details.
What tone and language should I use?
Using active verbs when talking about tasks you've undertaken can be very effective. Here is our list of active verbs.
Action verbs for covering letters
Levels of formality
Choosing the right tone for your covering letter is key to its success. If you are unsure about the tone of your covering letter, make an appointment with our team to clarify any doubts.
While you want to come across as respectful and professional, being too formal and over-polite is not advisable either.
While linguistically correct, these three statements come across as too ceremonious:
- I hereby apply for the position of graphic designer
- I would highly appreciate the opportunity to have my application considered and thank you in advance for your time and attention
Over-familiarity can be equally easy to fall into, so avoid sentences:
- I hope this email finds you well
- Consider me for this project and you will not be disappointed
Keep it simple as shown in these two examples:
- I am delighted to have the opportunity to submit this application.
- I am applying for the post of graphic designer advertised on your website as I believe I have the skills and experience to make a valuable contribution to Sigma Solutions.
Structuring your covering letter
Example covering letters
These covering letter examples will demonstrate how to present your covering letter based on the advice provided on this page. We have three examples depending on your circumstances.
1. Covering letter and CV for an advertised vacancy
2. Covering letter to send to a company to enquire if they have vacancies
Example for a speculative application
3. Covering letter and CV to highlight online work experience
Post pandemic, many companies have adapted to a more hybrid working culture. As part of this, some in-person activities such as internships, part-time jobs and volunteering experiences have moved online. These activities are just as important for your personal and professional development and you will have developed a new range of skills, such as collaborating on group projects remotely using new software.
We have created a covering letter and CV in response to a job vacancy to highlight how to showcase your experience of virtual activities and the skills developed. More on CVs.
How should I start the covering letter?
At the start, include your personal contact details and the date to the letter. Ideally you should address your covering letter to the person who will be reading it.
The covering letter should be addressed to a named person and often you can find the name of the hiring manager in the job advert, for example: Dear Dr. Harman, Dear Mrs Stevenson, Dear Alex Wozniak, if possible
If no name is given, or you are sending a speculative application, then take the time to find the appropriate contact using LinkedIn or the company's website to find the head of human resources or the head of the department the vacancy is based within.
It is good practice to include a job reference number or the name of the advertised role. This helps your application get to the right person within the organisation.
What should I include in the opening paragraph?
Open positively and politely, with a short introductory statement that explains the purpose of the letter and details how you found out about the job advert. For example:
- I am applying for the position of graduate management trainee advertised on your website as I would welcome the chance to work for Transco Exports
Then briefly highlight your relevant qualifications or experience that make you a strong fit for the role.
What should I include in the main part of the letter?
The body of your letter should be two or three concise paragraphs to outline
Explain your motivation to work for the company
You should include a paragraph that demonstrates you have researched the company and explains why you want to work for them.
You should research and mention specific aspects of the company that appeal to you, such as its mission, values, recent projects, or achievements. Explain why you are attracted to the company and how you can contribute to its success.
Find out how to research a company
Explain why you’re the ideal candidate
To do this, ensure you understand the job requirements and what they're looking for in applicants. You can then:
- highlight how your skills, experiences, and achievements align with their needs
- provide specific examples that demonstrate the skills required for the role
- include examples from your studies, work experience including part-time jobs, and other activities you're involved in
- quantify your achievements whenever possible to make them more impactful
Make sure to refer to your CV, especially to highlight any key experience that’s relevant to the role. A simple line such as, “My attached CV outlines my academic and work experience to date.” will be fine.
Our example cover letters can demonstrate good practice (see above).
Some more examples of good practice
To help structure your information and provide evidence in a professional way, we have included some examples.
- I have developed sound organisational and presentation skills during my degree
- I have developed sound organisational and presentation skills during my degree by participating in student working groups and research projects, giving presentations to staff and fellow students
- As you can see from my CV, I have previously undertaken similar duties to the ones required by this post
- I have previous experience of providing technical support and dealing with client requests in a pressurised environment, as shown in my CV
Relate examples to the post
If you present personal experiences as evidence of having certain competencies, relate your achievements to the post as clearly as possible. In the following examples, the second version is much more specific and better connected to the job. For a post of assistant events organiser:
Not specific enough
- The various parties I organised for the Spanish Society were amongst the most popular on campus – they were always full to the brim, people had a great time and I became well known at university as a result
Much more specific
- I organised three parties for the Spanish Society covering all costs through sponsorship and ticket sales. Attendees highlighted a vibrant atmosphere and excellent value for money, and I was asked to help organise other events as a result
Focus on the employer's needs
Focus on the employer’s requirements and how you can meet the employer’s needs – not how the post can meet yours. Check these examples:
- This post constitutes a great opportunity to update my design skills and will also help towards the costs of my studies
- This post constitutes a great opportunity to build on my design skills complementing the knowledge gained in my masters studies
Employers will read about countless ‘ambitious recent graduate looking for a challenging position’ who can ‘think outside the box’ and are ‘team players equally happy to work by themselves’ as well as ‘fast learners with a can-do attitude who always give 100%’.
How should I close the covering letter?
Conclude your cover letter by reiterating your interest in the position and expressing your desire for an interview. Thank the reader for their time and consideration.
- If you know the recipient’s name, then end with Yours sincerely.
- If you do not know the recipient’s name, then end with Yours faithfully
Who can check over my covering letter?
Read your draft carefully for grammar, punctuation, capitalisation and spelling, and have it proofread by someone with a sound knowledge of English and an eye for detail. You can use tools such as Grammarly.com to help you with this.
You can make an appointment to have your covering letter reviewed by our team and discuss any queries you may have. However, we are not able to offer a proofreading service.
The Centre for English Language Education (CELE) offers help on the appropriate use of language for job applications, cover letters, interviews and presentations. Personalised one-to-one consultations allow you to guide the focus according to your needs. This is not a proofreading service, but a tutor can offer advice on language choice, formality and structure to help your application stand out.
Covering letters for roles outside the UK
If you are considering or are in the process of applying to a job abroad, the format of the covering letter could be different to the above advice. Passport Career is an international careers information resource providing advice on applying for jobs including covering letters in more than 80 countries.
Go to Passport Career for advice on applying for jobs abroad