How to Write a Covering Letter

With an in-tray full of applications an employer will spend approximately 20 seconds casting an eye over each one. You have to be sure that in those 20 seconds your cover letter has sufficient impact to make the reader want to know more about you.

A covering letter builds upon the information you provided in your CV, it is a focussed sales pitch stating clearly in simple language just why this company should employ you. All of its contents should reaffirm to the reader that you are the right person for that job.

Do your research

Before you sit down to write your letter do some research on the company and into the role to which you are applying. The easiest way to do this is on the Internet. Be sure you know exactly what the company does and how they are placed amongst their competitors.

Try to gauge what the company’s business plan is. For example if they have spent a lot of money on a flashy website they could be hoping to expand more into online sales. As accurately as you can try to, know exactly what will be expected of you should you get the job. For example what are the duties of a marketing manager and what qualities they should posses?

Carrying out research shows to the employer that you have initiative and that you are genuinely interested in the company, it will also allow you to use style and terminology that is appropriate to the audience. For example the company may be relaxed or very formal, new or established, rapidly expanding or in the doldrums.

If you are applying for an advertised position make sure that the job advert is in front of you and refer to it frequently.

Addressing your covering letter

It is imperative that you address your letter carefully. After spending time wording it to perfection you do not want it to be directed to the wrong person or to go astray.

If you are applying for an advertised vacancy there is probably a contact name on that advert, and so address your letter to that person.

If you are writing to a company for a job when they have not advertised a vacancy, the chances are that unless you have contacts on the inside you will not know the name of the person you need to write to. In this case you can address your letter to the manager of the specific departments to which you are applying, for example Marketing Manager, Sales Manager, otherwise you can send it to the Human Resources Manager or Recruitment Manager. Visit the company’s website and see if you can track down the name of a relevant recipient. Alternatively give the company a call and ask for the name of the head of department to which you are applying.

You should make sure that the recipient’s name, department and address details on the envelope are the same as at the top of the letter.

Beginning the letter

  • Dear Mr Coxon – If you know the name of the person to whom you are writing
  • Dear Ms Chambers – If you are not sure of the marital status of the female recipient
  • Dear Sir/Madam – If you are in totally in the dark as to the name of the recipient

What content to include in your cover letter

The opening paragraph should be short and hard-hitting. Begin with an arresting sentence in which you explain why it is you are writing, for example ‘I would like to be considered for the position of Marketing Manager’.

If you are applying for an advertised position then say where you saw the advert, ‘ In response to the Marketing Manager job vacancy advertised in ‘Marketing Weekly’. If someone referred you to your contact, mention your friend’s referral in this section.

Examples of good opening paragraphs:

  • In response to the advertised position in The Guardian on July 12th, please consider my CV in your search for a Client/Server Architect.
  • I was pleased to hear from Jeremy Green that you will soon have a vacancy for a Marketing Assistant. I am very interested in this position, and I think that with my skills I could be an asset to your company.
  • Having recently read in The Times of your company’s plans for expansion, I am writing to establish whether this will involve an increase in personnel. As a final year business student at Durham University, I am seeking a position in January that will develop my marketing and finance skills.
  • I am writing to apply for the Photographic Assistant position advertised in the November 1 listing of Car Magazine.

The Second Paragraph

Why should an employer be interested in hiring you? Briefly describe your professional and academic qualifications that are relevant to the position. If the job was advertised refer to all of the required skills written therein.

The Third Paragraph

Emphasise what you can do for the company, not vice versa. Outline a relevant career goal, for example if you are applying for Sales positions do not say that you are training to be an airline pilot. Incorporate your research. Expand on the most relevant points of your CV

The Fourth Paragraph

Request actions, for example indicate your desire for a personal interview and that you’re able to meet with the employer at their convenience.

Some job adverts will ask you to include salary requirements, you can choose to ignore this, opting instead to wait until the interview to talk about money, or include a broad salary range, for example £16 – 20K.

Closing the letter

Sign off your covering letter ‘Yours sincerely’ then do not forget to sign it. Write an enclosure line at the bottom.

The Cover Letter Format

As with standard formal letter writing, your address goes at the top right hand corner, miss a line and then put the date. The recipient’s address goes on the left side on the line after the date.

Employ appropriate margin and paragraph spacing so that your letter is not bunched up at the top of the page but is evenly distributed and balanced.

The envelope should look as professional as its contents. Do not use any fancy stationery, a simple white envelope is best. Use a good pen, with black ink and use your best hand. Alternatively the envelope can be typed.

Always type your covering letter and use the same quality plain paper onto which you printed your CV. You may be asked to hand write your letter since some companies employ a graphologist to analyse your handwriting.

Important points to note

  1. Avoid sounding pompous or using clichés and catch phrases, there are some statements that are used all the time such as ‘I have excellent interpersonal skills’, you want your letter to be unique.
  2. Try to avoid using ‘I’ too much. A page of I did this and I did that is not appealing – it says to the employer that you haven’t thought about them.
  3. Do not use abbreviations.
  4. Do not exceed four paragraphs of content.
  5. To satisfy the skim reader, incorporate some industry sound bites and buzzwords.
  6. Subtly flatter the company, for example ‘you are the industry leader’
  7. Check and then recheck your spelling, grammar and punctuation. Get someone else to read it through also.
  8. If you are making a speculative application you should follow up the letter with a phone call, e-mail or office visit.
  9. Paper clip your covering letter to your CV, one should never be sent out without the other.

Still need help? Read the views of guest blogger and career coach Aimee Bateman on whether employers value cover letters.

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  • Joanne

    The opening lines are good except for the, ‘I am writing….’. As an employment coach, I recommend to all my customers to not start a letter with ‘I am’ as 90% of cover/ spec letters start with that. ‘I am writing…’ is even worse because it’s obvious you are writing as they would not have letter! As the article says, the letter should have impact so here is another opening line suggestion, ‘As a highly customer focused, energetic and experienced Retail Assistant, I would like to be considered for the vacancy advertised in the Global News’…or something along those lines anyway…anything but ‘I am’ :-)

  • Anthony Neal

    In an age of electronic communication, the reference to physical covering letters would appear to be somewhat anachronistic.

  • Castor

    If an employer has a tray full of applications, why would any of them want an extra piece of paper to read?! Cover letters are so old fashion with no way to know if the applicant it lying about themselves or not without having read their CV too. In my opinion the whole ‘cover letter’ should be scrapped. Are job seekers really expected to write a custom cover letter for each company they apply to?..You could apply to 100 companies in a week, you can’t be expected to write 100 different cover letters each addressing the individual employer. I rather just write one generic cover letter, if I have to have one, then spend the rest of my time searching for more jobs.

    • Chris Thompson

      Well that just shows no commitment to any of the job’s individually, Thus suggests no actual desire to get their job. Why give a job to someone who isn’t that bothered about getting that job, when they could choose an applicant who really desires that job?

      • Harry Chown

        If one applies to one job then the chances are that that person won’t get that job. I am applying for ACA training contracts. I guarantee that no matter how custom made I make my cover letter, I won’t get a position if I send it to only one company. I have got a list of 86 employers that have vacancies. 86 might give me a 5% chance when compared with just 1 application. However I can’t spend 2 hours on each cover letter for 86 employers – it’s simply not possible. But trust me, I WANT their jobs and I have commitment.

  • Michael Gadd

    This is helpful but what advice do you have when writing ‘through’ a recruitment consultant or online job website that uses covering letter templates? Therefore knowing very little about the company?