What to Include
Your CV should always be accompanied by a covering letter, unless the employer tells you otherwise. It is a key part of your application. Your letter should demonstrate your suitability for the vacancy and highlight the most important parts of your CV.
Ideally your letter should only be one side of A4. It should be typed unless a handwritten letter is specifically requested and you should use the same font style and size used in your CV.
Beginning and ending
Make sure that you write to the correct person – it's important to get their name and job title right. If a name is not given, try to find out who you should address your letter to by contacting the company or checking the website.
When addressing your letter, use title and last name only. If you can't find out the name of the person, use 'Dear Sir/Madam'.
Finish your letter in a polite and friendly way, saying when you would be available for interview. End on a positive note, eg 'I would welcome the opportunity to discuss at interview what I could bring to this role.'
To end your letter, write 'Yours sincerely' if you know the name of the person you're writing to, or 'Yours faithfully' if you don't know the name, followed by your signature.
Sign a posted letter by hand. If you're sending it electronically, try scanning your signature.
Briefly explain what you are doing now and why you are writing.
If the job or placement was advertised, include where and when you saw the advert. If you are applying speculatively, be as specific as you can about what you are looking for.
A strong, confident and positive opening statement makes a good first impression, eg 'I believe I have the relevant skills, knowledge and experience to make a real difference in this role and in your organisation.'
Summarise what you have to offer
Summarise the key selling points from your CV which demonstrate that you have what they are looking for. This should be a concise summary with specific examples, rather than talking about generic skills and qualities in isolation. For example, 'I am a reliable and trustworthy person with good communication skills' doesn't demonstrate to the employer how you developed your skills.
Convey your enthusiasm for the job and what you can do for the company, rather than talking about yourself in a general way.
Give reasons why the organisation should consider you. What have you got to offer them? Talk about any relevant experience, knowledge and skills and how you could make a contribution.
Try not to repeat phrases from your CV. Make sure that your CV clearly provides evidence for statements that you make in the letter.
Target the employer
Each letter should be tailored to the particular organisation and role. Recruiters will not be impressed with a generic covering letter.
Explain why you want to work for this organisation, eg their ethos, product, location, or contact you have had with people who work there.
You should also show that you have researched the organisation and know what they do, but don't just repeat what is on their website.
Other relevant information
It may be relevant to include other information in your covering letter, eg sharing information about a disability or explaining the circumstances of disappointing academic grades. Come and talk to us if you have concerns about explaining these or other issues in your letter.
For advice on sharing information about a disability with an employer, see:
- diversity and equality in the workplace (Careers Service)
- British Dyslexia Association: applying for jobs and promotions - includes examples of reasonable adjustments employers could make during the application process
- cover letters (Prospects)
- example of disclosing a disability in a cover letter (Prospects)
A speculative letter will contain the same information as one for an advertised post with some additions. Read on to find out what you should include.
Try to identify a contact name to address your letter to. Contact the company to ask who is responsible for recruitment, or for a key contact in the department or section you wish to work in.
Information to include
You should be as specific as you can about the type of work you’re looking for. Consider giving the employer a range of options, so if no vacancies are available you can possibly get involved another way.
You could ask about:
- permanent vacancies
- temporary or part-time work
- work experience/shadowing
- arranging a brief meeting or the opportunity to talk to a recent graduate
Follow up with a phone call
It’s useful to follow up a speculative application with a phone call a few days later to show you are proactive and motivated.
For more advice on speculative letters, see The Guardian Careers article 'Do speculative cover letters work?'.
We've created some examples of different types of covering letters to help you think about content, layout and how to demonstrate your skills.
We've written some example covering letters for graduate and part-time jobs:
- Graduate Job Cover Letter Example (PDF: 72KB)
- Part Time Job Cover Letter Example (PDF: 116KB)
- Speculative Graduate Job Cover Letter Example (PDF: 118KB)
The following links include advice about writing effective covering letters, with examples:
- covering letter essentials for graduate vacancies (TARGETjobs)
- example CVs and job hunting tools (TARGETjobs) – includes example covering letters for a range of sectors, including law and finance
- example Cover Letter (WikiJob) – includes example covering letters, including one for a graduate role and for a speculative application
- cover letters (Prospects) – tips and example covering letters, including speculative and one showing how to disclose a disability
- academic cover letter template (jobs.ac.uk) – teaching-focused lectureship post
The Careers Service provides advice and resources to help you create your covering letter. There are also a range of useful websites that provide futher advice.
The Careers Service can provide feedback on covering letters at our drop-in sessions.
‘How to write your covering letter' workshop
Attend our careers workshop, ‘How to write your covering letter’. For dates and times, see our Events section.
CVs and Covering Letters workbook
For more advice on writing CVs and covering letters, see our CVs and Covering Letters workbook.
You can also pick up a free copy of the workbook at the Careers Service.
Tips for writing effective covering letters
The following links give useful advice on writing an effective covering letter:
- sell yourself: a cover letter guide for beginners (Guardian)
- covering letter tips: expert advice for graduates (Guardian)
- making covering letters stand out (The Student Room)
- cover letters are hard to write but this template makes it a breeze (The Muse)
- 5 filler cover letter lines that are just taking up valuable space (The Muse)