Career Advice

Writing a Great Cover Letter

Tips for writing a great cover letter for your application

Found the perfect job vacancy?  After you have updated your CV, ensuring the work experience, skills and achievements that make you the best candidate for the job are highlighted, it is now time to write a cover letter for your application.

Read on to find out why a well written cover letter is so important and check out our tips to help you create a cover letter that will make your application stand out from the crowd.

Why do you need a cover letter?

A cover letter gives you the opportunity to introduce yourself to a recruiter or employer, asking them to consider your application for a particular job opening.  It is usually a short letter, approximately 3 to 5 paragraphs, that you would send with your CV or the application form attached to the job advertisement.  It’s common nowadays to apply for jobs online, in which case you can write the cover letter as an email.  Alternatively, print off a typed letter copy to be posted with your paper application.

When should you use a cover letter?

It’s good practice to always include a cover letter with your application, whether it is submitted online or posted in hardcopy.  There may be situations where the online application process does not enable you to add a cover letter and instead there may be a free text field in the application form which you could use for your introductory paragraphs and personal profile.

Research the company, the role and the industry sector

Before you decide to apply for a particular role and draft your application make sure you check out the employer’s website to learn about their products and services.  Can you find any recent news about the organisation or the sector they operate in?  Perhaps you know someone who works there and who you could talk to so you can find out first hand what it’s like working there.

Address your application letter to the right person

It sounds obvious, but people can forget at times that it’s important to address a job application to a named person, using their preferred personal title and job title.  If the job advert does not include a name consider checking the employer’s website to find details of either the head of the department you are applying to, the head of human resources, or a recruitment professional.  If you cannot establish the appropriate person and name, you can start your letter with “Dear Sir or Madam”.  You would also need to ensure that you include the correct name, address and post code for the organisation.

The next bit is very important…

The main purpose of your cover letter is to introduce yourself and to make the reader interested so that they are going on to read your CV in detail.   It is good practice to introduce yourself and explain how you found the job advert, mentioning the job title and a reference number if included in the advert.  Sometimes you may write to an employer asking about potential vacancies instead of responding to an actual job opening, in which case you would want to explain what kind of role you are looking for.  Emphasise that you are keen to work for the organisation and why, referencing information that you have found out in your earlier research, for example a company’s strategy to set up an office in a new territory and your ability to speak the host language and interest in relocating there.

Next, demonstrate your understanding of what the employer is looking for and highlight your work experience and skills that match the job requirements.  In addition to your skills and experience you would want to emphasise your enthusiasm for working for the organisation because you share its work values, culture and general style.

What about extra information?

If you have mentioned additional information in your CV you might want to elaborate on this in your cover letter.  For example, if you have gaps in your employment history, you could explain the reason for your career break(s) and mention the skills that you gained through other experiences while out of work.  Similarly, if you have shared information on your personal circumstances such as a disability that is relevant to the role you could talk more about this, for example if specific accommodations are required.  However, there is no need to mention a disability at this stage if you prefer not to.  You could also add when you would be available to start a new job, and add links to your LinkedIn profile, published work and achievements where applicable.  You do not have to provide references at this stage of the application process.

The grand finale

As with most written pieces, you will want to pull it all together at the end of your letter.  Don’t forget to thank the employer for considering your application, and invite them to obtain more details from your CV.  Tell them that you are looking forward to hearing from them, including your preferred contact method (for example by phone or email).  Ensure your contact details and address are correct on the CV and the cover letter. 

Sign off your letter with “yours sincerely” if you have addressed it to a named person; and use “yours faithfully” if your letter started with “Dear Sir or Madam”.  Attach your CV if you send your application by email, and enclose a hard copy of your CV if you are are posting your application in the mail.

More tips for the perfect cover letter

  • A new cover letter is needed for each application you prepare, ensuring it’s adapted to the specific job opening and employer.
  • Show that you have done your research into the organisation and role.
  • Using the same font and size as in your CV will make your application look professional.
  • No fancy fonts or images please!
  • Double check that you have the correct company name, address and contact person’s details.
  • Keep your language and tone professional and match key words used in the job advert.
  • Recruiters tend to receive large amounts of applications and are said to spend only 7 seconds on deciding whether to read a CV in detail or not, so making your cover letter (and CV) succinct and clear is key.  3 to 5 neatly laid out paragraphs is normally enough.
  • Grab their attention by highlighting your experience and skills that are most relevant to the job you are applying for.
  • Any statements you make should be backed up with facts.  You can use the Star method for this – click here for more info The STAR method | National Careers Service.
  • Do check your cover letter (and CV) for content, structure, spelling and grammar before you send it.  Put yourself in the shoes of the recruiter and ask yourself whether the letter conveys the points you intended to, in a concise, clear and professional way.
  • You may also consider asking someone you trust to read it and provide feedback.
  • Make sure you retain a copy of the letter so you can re-read it before the interview.  You may also be asked to bring a copy of the letter and your CV to the interview.

Further reading:

Careers advice – job profiles, information and resources | National Careers Service

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Wishing you good luck for your next application!

Written by Susanne Ollig

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