Writing compelling covering letters

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When you send your CV to a potential employer, you should also send a covering letter. In most cases, you will be asked to do so, but even if a covering letter is not stipulated, you should always enclose one and demonstrate your motivation and company research! Here is some of our advice on how to write a compelling covering letter to secure that vital interview!

Aims of a good covering letter

Your covering letter needs to:

  • Highlight relevant points on your CV and provide additional information about your skills and knowledge in relation to the role in question;
  • Demonstrate your knowledge and understanding of the company you are applying to and why you wish to work there.
  • Address any issues that you feel may be of concern such as not having all or relevant qualifications or experience listed in job description, or disappointing exam results etc.

 

Structure and Content

Covering letters should follow a standard business layout.

The order in the covering letter is not strict, you may for example, prefer to talk about your interest in the company first and then go on to the skills and knowledge you can offer, however, try not to mix up different points i.e. bouncing between you and the company throughout the letter.

Covering letter format

  • Your name and address on top left hand corner (UK)
  • Employer name and address below on right hand side (UK)
  • Salutation (Dear + name)
  • Introductory paragraph
  • Two-three paragraphs addressing your skills, knowledge and company research and contribution you can make
  • Finishing off paragraph

Referring to your CV in the covering letter

It is always a good idea to refer to your CV early in the covering letter to ensure that you don’t start repeating the CV verbatim. Use the covering letter to provide complementary information to your CV. You may choose to refer to your CV in the introduction e.g. “I enclose my CV for your consideration” or you could refer to the CV when you talk about your skills etc. E.g.: “As my CV indicates, I can offer a number of relevant skills, such as XXX. In addition, …”.

Writing about your interest in the company

Many people concentrate solely on trying to ‘sell’ their experiences and skills in the covering letter to the employer. People often become quite good at identifying their key skills and relevant knowledge and therefore can do this part of the letter quite well!

However, how does the employer know that you are genuinely interested in working for them? How do they distinguish motivated candidates from others? If all the applicants have good skill examples, what makes some stand out for interview more than others?

Giving an indication in your letter that you have done some research into the employer, have a good understanding of their products, projects, customers, business outlook and relevance to your field help to really enhance your application. Perhaps aspects of their training programme really stand out for you. Show your knowledge in your letter and that you spent time researching them.

Remember, the application is not just about you, but the employer’s needs too! Look at the company’s website, go through articles about them in the relevant media.

Think about your role and the contribution you could make. Compare the company to their rivals, what are their strong points? When you send the covering letter, you should always feel that if the company was to call you the next day for an immediate interview, you would be fully prepared – and that means knowing lots of relevant information about the company, as well as your own skills profile!

Sending your application

Electronically

If you are sending your application by email, including the entire content of the letter in the message box of your e-mail may result in a very long e-mail which could be off-putting to the recipient! Try writing a shorter, summarised message for the e-mail explaining your reasons for contacting them, and attaching your covering letter and CV to the message (with reference to this in the e-mail). You could either attach the covering letter and CV as one document, or as two separate attachments, ensure that it is clear in your message. Don’t forget to attach!

By post

If you send your application by post, using good quality paper can make a real difference to the impact of your application. Don’t forget to sign your letter and ensure you send it off well in time of the closing date for applications, or else your hard work could go to waste!

And: CHECK FOR SPELLING, GRAMMAR AND PUNCTUATION MISTAKES. If you are not sure, ask a friend, tutor or careers advisor to proof read.

Speculative covering letters

You may want to write to companies who do not have vacancies currently advertised in the hope there may be something suitable in the near future. This is called a ‘speculative’ application and some areas of the letter may change e.g.:

Introduction

Rather than refer to a specific position, you should indicate a type of position you are hoping might be available. If you have met the correspondent in the past, or have been recommended to write to them by a contact, you can mention this here.

Your skills and knowledge

Show how they relate to your suggested role(s) in relation to the kind of needs you think this company would have (think about similar companies and the kinds of skill requirements you may have seen in relevant job ads etc.)

Why this company?

This is even more important to speculative letters. Perhaps you can impress them by showing you have relevant knowledge and understanding of their goods or services, and that you can offer a particularly relevant area of knowledge.

Finishing off

Perhaps it may be worth mentioning that you will initiate contact with the company in a couple of weeks or so for advice on opportunities, but you must then follow it up!

More help with job applications

For more help with making applications, why not visit our pages on Soft Skills, CVs, Online Application Forms and Interviews. You can also start preparing for the selection process and aptitude tests with our Self Assessment Portal.