Everything you need to know about covering letters
Covering letters (or cover letters) are an important part of the application process. They need to compliment the CV and work in conjunction with it rather than replicating the exact information.
How covering letters fit together with CVs
The CV is there to address and evidence the specific requirements of a role. The covering letter is to be slightly more conversational and show the employer your motivation, why you are interested in working for them, why you want to apply for this specific role and give them an insight into what you have to offer to get them interested in you enough to want to look at the CV.
Covering letters should be the icing on the cake. It should be the last thing you do after you’ve spent time researching and developing your understanding about the role and how it fits within an organisation, and already applied this to the CV.
You shouldn’t need to use a template, as a lot of the information in a covering letter should be authentic and come naturally from your knowledge of the company, the role and your understanding what they are looking for, based on the advert. Also once you consider the content of a covering letter, you will have to change so much of what is in a template that it would only stifle the process.
Don’t be afraid to start from scratch with this part of the application process. Instead, consider the structure and formatting as your starting point and something that can be used time and time again.
How to format and structure your cover letter
Covering letters should still be formal in their format including addresses and dates.
If you are able to, send the letter using a formal business style, saved as a PDF together with your CV. Alternatively you may need to use the cover letter content in email form. If this is the case then remove any of the formalities such as addresses and dates but keep to the formal language and finish with your name, so need for signatures.
Always aim to find out the name of who you are addressing it to. If you are able to get the name sign off Yours sincerely: if you don’t, address it Dear Hiring Manager then finish off by saying Yours faithfully.
1. How to introduce a cover letter
After addressing the reader you need a brief introduction. Stick to the facts: What are you applying for and where did you see it advertised? Say where you are now and what you are looking for.
2. Three key issues to address in your cover letter
It’s up to you in which order you want to address the three key issues but for me the following order allows you to show your connection to the company as the opening and the rest of it should naturally flow from that, and finish with selling yourself and encouraging them to get into the CV.
3. Motivation – why that company?
This section has to be authentic. Avoid marketing phrasing that you have read about. This is about showing your understanding of the company, what they’re about and how you connect to this. There are lots of ways of approaching this.
Firstly, think realistically about what it is that attracted you to this organisation. Is it that they are based in your hometown? is it that you’ve known people have worked there or met them at careers fairs? Is it that you are well read and always find the projects that you read about them particularly interesting?
It might be that you want to connect with them through a project that you know about or that you can demonstrate that you have aligning values.
4. Why you are interested in that specific role or scheme?
Think about why you are interested in this role rather than other opportunities that you’ve read. This might include identifying duties that you’ve done in another role, or it might be that this role gives you opportunity to expand your experience and knowledge after having done a module on your course. It might be something simpler e.g. this role gives you opportunities to work more with clients, as you found this is an area you have particular interest in or is one of your strengths.
You may choose to build into this part your general passion or interest in the sector or how you got into being interested in this type of work, if it feels appropriate.
Another aspect to consider could be that this role seems like a natural progression from…. (this could be your course, placement or other experience). Make sure to say more than just natural progression. Don’t forget you are trying to stand out and show your motivation and your interest in the role. Make it personal to you and your connection to this role.
5. How do you meet the requirements?
You don’t need to give heavy examples at this stage but give an overview of how you meet the key criteria. Be pragmatic about how you sell yourself. You don’t need to say you are the ideal candidate. It can come across a bit arrogant and you want to show a willingness to learn. Instead focus on saying how you have successfully demonstrated the requirements of the role through previous experiences, to show that you can do this for them now.
You may want to talk about your strong academic background, the types of roles that you’ve done or how much experience you have within the given sector. You might identify one or two key jobs that you’ve done if they are relevant and refer to some of the key skills they are looking for and say in what situations you’ve developed these skills. Focus on the requirements here.
Finish by saying you have attached your CV, that is demonstrates how you meet the requirements and that you look forward to hearing from them.
What else to include in your cover letter
If you’re finding yourself asking, ‘what else do I include in my cover letter?‘, there are other things that you might want to address:
- You may choose to declare your disability and how you have used this positively in a work environment. For more information on this check out our updated Moving into employability with a disability page.
- You may want to address requirements that are not appropriate to include in a CV such as saying you are able to work weekends.
- Also, if the requirements identify personal traits such as resilient, hardworking or friendly. These traits are not easy to tangibly provide evidence of within a CV but could be developed into a covering letter more effectively.
- If the role is located further than commuting distance, then you may want to note that you have somewhere to stay in the area of the company or that you are prepared to move to do the job.
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