Writing a great cover letter

Ok, you’ve got your first CV up and running – it must be time to submit that job application. But wait! What about your cover letter? This is as important to your application as your CV, and can make all the difference when employers are deciding who to interview.

But what is a cover letter? And what should you put in it? On this page, we talk you through the basics so you know exactly how to write a cover letter.

What is a cover letter?

Most job applications are made up of two parts – a CV and a cover letter. The cover letter is usually the first thing the employer will see, so a good cover letter is like the wrapping paper for your CV: it gets an employer excited about what’s inside. While your CV tells a potential employer about your skills and experience, a cover letter tells them exactly why you’re applying.

Now writing an exciting letter for a job application might sound like a tall order, but the good news is there’s a knack to it. In fact, it’s a bit like a recipe – as long as you know the ingredients and how to put them together, the result should be perfect.

The infographic on the right lists the main purposes of a cover letter – you’ll find it much easier if you bear these points in mind when writing yours. Right click and select “View image in new tab” to see a bigger version.

Why do I need a cover letter?

Most employers have to look through dozens or even hundreds applications for every job they advertise. Writing a strong cover letter will make you stand out from the crowd.

This shows the employer that you are genuinely interested in the job and motivates them to interview you. And as it’s the first thing they’ll see, it’s your chance to make a good impression and explain to them why you’re a perfect fit for the job.

What to write in a cover letter

It’s important to remember that every cover letter should be unique to the job you’re applying for, but there’s also a standard way to structure them. Following this formula makes it easy for the employer to find the information they’re looking for, and shows them that you’ve done your research and care about the job.

Cover letters are divided into three parts: the introduction, your “pitch”, and the sign off. Here, we show you exactly what to write in a cover letter.

Paragraph 1: The introduction

This is the easy part. Address whoever is receiving the letter, then introduce yourself and the role you’re applying for. They’ll want to know who you are and why you’re writing.

Top tip: Find out the name of the person who will be receiving the letter. This grabs their attention and shows that you’ve taken the time to tailor your letter specifically for them. You can start with “Dear Hiring Manager” or “To Whom It May Concern” but it’s always best to use the person’s name. We recommend making a phone call if you can’t find it online. It’s not as scary as it sounds, and gives you chance to introduce yourself verbally.

Paragraph 2: The “pitch”

This is where you get to really sell yourself. First of all, let them know why you want to work for them. Don’t just say “I need a job”: show them you care about what they do. If you’re a fan of one their products, let them know. Or maybe you’re after a challenge? Write that down, too!

Next, show them why you’re right for that specific role. Here’s how to do it:

  • Look at the requirements listed in the job description.
  • Next to each, note down why you meet it and some specific examples which show this. These can be from school, your part-time job or any clubs or societies you’re part of. For example, if the job requires you to handle money, let them know about your great maths grades.
  • Include as many of these as you can in the space you have available, which will be one or two paragraphs. As long as it’s relevant, you can use one example to illustrate two or more skills from the job description.

The aim here is to show your interest in the job and summarise your relevant skills. Make sure you don’t just list what’s on your CV. This part of your cover letter is important because it shows specifically how your skills and experience relate to the job, whereas your CV is a general summary of your school and work history.

Paragraph 3: The sign off

Alright, you’re almost done. But like any polite conversation you can’t just up and leave without saying goodbye. Thank the reader for their time, let them know you’re looking forward to hearing from them, and sign off with a nice “Your sincerely”. 

Check, check and check again

And you’re done! Well, almost…

After all that hard work, you want your effort to pay off. Spelling errors, typos and other silly mistakes are the best way to get your application filed under B for Bin. So while knowing what to write in a cover letter is crucial, remembering to give it a thorough read-through at the end is really important too.

We also suggest asking a careers adviser, teacher or parent to give it a sanity check before you send it off.

Sending it off

Now you’re ready to submit your application! Nowadays, you usually do this by attaching your cover letter and CV to an email. Don’t forget, this email is the first thing the recruiter will see, so make sure it’s polite, error free and to-the-point:

  • Start as you began your cover letter: “Dear so and so…”
  • Say what job you’re applying for and how you found out about it.
  • List the documents you’ve included with the email, for example: “Please find attached my cover letter and CV”.
  • Email etiquette is slightly different to letters, so sign off with “Kind regards” instead of “Yours sincerely”.

Top tip: Make sure you use a sensible email address with a pattern like firstname.lastname@email.com, not workisforlosers@hotmail.co.uk.

And finally…

Remember, try not to use the same letter for different job applications. Take the time to write a cover letter that is unique to the job you’re applying for and you’ll be surprised by the results.