What is a cover letter?

A cover letter is a document sent alongside your CV when applying for jobs. It acts as a personal introduction and helps to sell your application. Although not always necessary, a cover letter gives you the chance to explain to an employer why you’re the best candidate for the job. You do this by highlighting relevant skills and experience; therefore you should always write your cover letter with the position you’re applying for in mind.

Before writing your cover letter

Before you can begin writing your cover letter you must do your research and take some time to look into the role your applying for and the company.

Not only will doing research give you the knowledge you need to tailor your cover letter and CV to the style of the company, it also demonstrates that you have a real interest in the specific role and company.

Layout of a cover letter

A cover letter is a professional document to accompany your CV, therefore it should be presented in business letter style format.

The cover letter must be in a readable font that matches your CV and should not include pictures, embellishments, etc.

A cover letter should be around three to five short paragraphs, and should not exceed one A4 page. A recent survey found that 46% of employers preferred a cover letter that is half a page in length.

How to address your cover letter

Always try to address your cover letter directly to the person dealing with the applications, this is normally shown somewhere on the job advert.

If this can not be found, you can address the cover letter with general salutations such as ‘Dear Sir/Madame’. However, general greetings should only be used once you have exhausted methods of finding a named contact.

How you sign off your cover letter depends on how you addressed it. If you include a named contact sign off ‘yours sincerely’. If you use a general one finish with ‘yours faithfully’.

How to structure your cover letter

Keep your cover letter brief, while making sure it emphasises your suitability for the job. There are no set rules on how your cover letter should be structured, however a typical cover letter can be broken down into the following sections:

  • First paragraph – The opening statement should set out why your writing the letter. This should include the position your applying for, where you saw it advertised and when you are available to start.
  • Second paragraph – Cover why your suitable for the role, what attracted you to this type of work, why your interested in working for the company and what you can offer the organisation.
  • Third paragraph – Highlight relevant experience and demonstrate how your skills match the specific requirements of the job description. Summarise any additional strengths and explain how these could benefit the company.
  • Last paragraph – Use the closing paragraph to round up your letter. Reiterate your interest in the role and indicate your desire for a personal interview. Mention any unavailable dates, and finally finish by thanking the employer saying how you are looking forward to receiving a response.