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Covering letter top tips

This guide summarises the essential information you will need to write a successful speculative or responsive covering letter.

A covering letter is a letter sent to a prospective employer expressing an interest in working for their organisation. Whilst a covering letter is only a small part of an application process, it is the first thing the employer sees and if its not right your application form or CV may not even be looked at.

A cover letter has only one purpose: to encourage recruiters to read your CV. The letter gives you the chance to demonstrate that you understand the nature of the job being advertised and to show how your skills and abilities fit the vacancy perfectly.

Remember, you can always get your CV checked by a member of the Employability Team by making an appointment with them.

Layout and visual presentation rules

Your covering letter should be no more than 1 side of A4 and written in black ink using the same font and styles of your CV.

If at all possible, address your covering letter to a named individual.

Your covering letter should be laid out like a conventional letter and covers the key sections to a business letter. Ensure you include your address, the company’s address and appropriate opening greetings/closing salutations.

Responsive covering letters

A responsive covering letter is sent to a potential employer who has specifically advertised for a position or vacancy. A responsive covering letter is made up of the following content:

Opening greeting

  • If you have a specific named contact use it (e.g. Dear Mr Smith). For no specific named contact use ‘Dear Sir/Madam’.

Reference

  • Add a reference/reference number to the top of your letter, so the employer knows which job you are interested in applying for.

Opening statement

  • Get to the point quickly with a strong opening statement that references where and when you saw the job advertised.

Supporting statement

  • Explain you CAN do the job highlighting your abilities and skills, WILL do the job highlighting your commitment, motivation and effort and will FIT in with the company.
  • Tell the employer why you want to work for them and why you applied for this job. Ensure you reference the specific job and explain why you are the best candidate.
  • Refer to any documents you have enclosed e.g. CV or application form.

Closing statement

  • Thank the employer for considering you and re-state your commitment and enthusiasm for the specific job.
  • State you are available for interview at the employers earliest convenience.

Complimentary close

  • If your letter starts ‘Dear Mr Smith’ use ‘Yours sincerely’. If your letter starts ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ use ‘Yours faithfully’.

Speculative covering letters

A speculative covering letter is not sent in response to a specific job advert. As the employer may not be recruiting at the time of enquiry, you need to ensure you state you are enquiring about current or future vacancies which utilise your skills and experience. A speculative letter will usually be attached to a CV. Getting the covering letter wrong may result in your CV never getting read.

Opening greeting

  • If you have a specific named contact use it (e.g. Dear Mr Smith). For no specific named contact use ‘Dear Sir/Madam’.

Opening statement

  • In this section you need to gain the reader's attention and get to the point quickly. Explain why you are interested in pursuing a career in your chosen field and would like to work for their organisation.
  • If you have been told to contact a specific person explain who gave you their contact details. If they are a trusted friend, they may take your enquiry more seriously.

Supporting statement

  • Refer to any documents you have enclosed (e.g. your CV) and highlight the best points in your CV and any sections specifically relevant to this employer.
  • Give evidence of your knowledge of the company and how your skills and achievements will benefit that company and tell the employer why you want to work for them.

Closing statement

  • Thank the employer for their consideration of you and explain your intention to contact them to follow up on your enquiry and re-state your commitment and enthusiasm to work for their company.
  • State you are available to meet with them at a time convenient for them.

Complimentary close

  • If your letter starts ‘Dear Mr Smith’ use ‘Yours sincerely’. If your letter starts ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ use ‘Yours faithfully’.