How to write a covering letter
Expert tips on how to write the perfect covering letter to improve your chances of securing a job. We look at what you need to include, structure and a few extra pointers.
You may have honed and perfected your graduate CV by using our guide but it’s nothing without a good quality graduate covering letter.
Your graduate covering letter is the thing that any potential employer will look at before picking up your CV. It’s your best chance to sell yourself for a specific role in a single page.
Imagine your CV as the bare bones, dealing with all the vitals of you as person, and your covering letter as the flesh, which goes much further to explain why you are the perfect candidate for a position.
It is important to remember that even if an employer doesn’t ask for a covering letter it’s a good idea to include one along with your application. The majority of employers are looking for a full job application from graduates so don’t disappoint at the first step of the process.
What to include and layout
Every covering letter will vary depending on the job you’re applying for and your own experience. But in terms of the format, you can’t go far wrong if you follow these general sections or paragraphs:
The first part is really the most important. It’s an opportunity to introduce yourself, but more than this you need to grab their attention so they continue reading. Don’t bore them with your life story, get straight to the point and state in one concise sentence why they really need to consider you.
It’s a good idea to tell them how you found out about the job, and mention any attachments such as your CV. Remember to keep the tone positive and professional, and whatever you do avoid waffling! This applies to the whole letter.
Why you want the job
In the second paragraph, explain to your potential employer exactly what appeals to you about this job and why you’re interested in working for the company.
Don’t regurgitate everything you know about the business or what’s in your CV, but pick out the key facts that make you a good fit!
Your skills and experience
Dedicate the next paragraph to discussing your skills and experience, in relation to the role. Pick out a few of your key strengths and give examples that back up your claims.
Generic statements saying that you’re really good at working as part of a team are pretty redundant if you don’t tell the recruiter a little bit more about your experience and why you’re so good in this area.
It’s not bad to mention things on your CV so long as you elaborate and illustrate, but don’t overdo it.
Your availability for interview
End on a really positive note and say that you’re looking forward to finding out more about the opportunity.
Briefly state when you’re available for interview, but don’t make a list of all your engagements over the next three months! Just tell the employer what days and times are generally best for you.
Tips for writing your covering letter
Tailor every letter to the job that you’re applying for
Knowing the format to use is one thing, but don’t neglect the finer details. Before you send off your covering letter, do your research and make sure it applies to the job you’re applying for.
You might think you can pull the wool over their eyes but recruiters know whether it’s a generic response or a tailored one, and showing that you care about the role is the way forward.
Always address your letter to a named person
Avoid ‘Dear Sir/Madam‘, actually find out who it is that you’re sending the letter to and address them by name. You might have to make a quick call to the company or the recruitment agency, but it’ll make your response seem more personal and win you a few extra brownie points.
‘Dear Mr./Mrs. Smith‘ is how you should start, and ‘Yours sincerely‘ followed by a signature and typed name is how you should close.
Spelling and grammar must be perfect
Just like your CV, there’s no room for silly mistakes. Read everything through, then double check it. It could be the difference between your application being taken further and it going straight in the bin.
If you have a couple of helpful friends then ask them to take a look through it for you too.
Don’t get carried away!
Every now and again, there’ll be a job that asks you to get creative with your application. These are usually jobs in the, well, creative industry. But unless you’re specifically asked to do something crazy, don’t do it!
Stick to one page of A4, in a conventional font (not Times New Roman or Comic Sans), and write in a professional tone throughout.
Free covering letter template
To give you a framework to start putting your covering letter together, feel free to download our generic template (.doc).
Getting the logistics right
Finally, if you’re applying via email, attach your covering letter as a Word document (.doc) or PDF rather than copying and pasting it into the body. This way, employers will be able to save your documents to their database or print them off if necessary. It also means you have control over formatting.
If it’s a paper application, use good quality paper and a decent printer. Even if that means spending a little more money or having to take a trip to the library.
It’s worth applying for as many jobs that spark your interest as possible, though remember the importance of tailoring each covering letter!
Of course the next part is the waiting, which can be the hardest part of all! But if you get your covering letter right, you hopefully won’t have to wait too long and can take a well deserved rest…
Have you got any useful tips for securing a great job with a covering letter? We’d love to hear them!