Your covering 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.
Your covering letter also gives you the opportunity to positively explain any gaps in your CV, changing courses, low grades and any disability you may have (although you do not have to disclose this).
Use Passport Career for advice on covering letters outside the UK
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.
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
How long should 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. It's a good idea to pick a modern font such as Calibri or san seif, font size 11 or 12 - it's advisable to use the same font as your CV.
Covering letters for academic posts may be longer than this but not usually more than two pages of A4.
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.
What tone and language should I use? Includes action verb list
Use active verbs when talking about tasks you've undertaken can be very effective. Use our list of active verbs.
Action verbs for covering letters (PDF)
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.
Achievements and awards
Avoid listing achievements and awards – however prestigious – unless their relation to the attributes sought by the employer in the job description.
For instance, having won a prize for public speaking given by the University’s debating society would not be relevant by itself when applying for an auditing job. If you highlight that preparing for debates involved analysing complex documents and policies, the connections to the job are much more obvious.
Structuring your covering letter
Example covering letters
How should I start and end the covering letter?
Include your personal and contact details and date the letter. 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
Use these guidelines on letter writing conventions to structure your covering letter.
Lexico - How to lay out a letter
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
What should I include in the main part of the letter?
The middle of your letter should be a series of concise paragraphs that prove you are an ideal candidate and meet, or even exceed, the requirements of the position by highlighting your skills and experience and your motivation to work for the organisation.
Explain why you’re the ideal candidate
To help structure your information and provide evidence, you can use the STAR approach:
- Situation - Describe the situation
- Task - Explain the task
- Actions - Describe your actions
- Results - Explain the result
For example, if you say you have strong written and verbal communication skills, you will need to back this up with specific examples of when and where you have demonstrated them.
- 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
Explain your motivation to work for the company
You should also include a paragraph that demonstrates you have researched the company and explains why you want to work for them.
Find out how to research a company
Avoid clichés as employers 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%’.
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 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) runs English courses for EU and overseas students as part of their in sessional programme. They also offer one-to-one consultations to help students with their writing – although they do not offer a proofreading service, they can make suggestions for improvement.