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.
What to include in your letter
There is no one correct way of writing your letter, but you should aim to cover all the following sections:
- Ideally your letter should only be one side of A4 in length.
- It should be typed unless a handwritten letter is specifically requested.
- Use the same font style and size as in your CV.
Beginning and ending
- Make sure that you write to the correct person - get their name and job title right! If a name isn't given, try to find out who you should address your letter to by phoning the company or checking their website.
- When addressing your letter, use title and surname 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'.
- Use 'Yours sincerely' or, if you don't know the name, 'Yours faithfully', followed by your signature to end your letter. Sign a posted letter by hand - if you are 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 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 and 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, contact you have had with people who work there.
- Show that you have researched the organisation and know what they do, but don't just repeat what is on their website!
Any other relevant points
For example, 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 covering letter.
A speculative letter will contain the same information as one for an advertised post with the following additions:
- Always try to identify a contact name to address your letter to – ring or email the company to ask who is responsible for recruitment or for the name of the manager in the department you wish to work in.
- 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 or to try to arrange a brief meeting or the opportunity to talk to a recent graduate.
- It’s useful to follow up a speculative application with a phone call a few days afterwards to show you are proactive and motivated.
For more advice, see Guardian Careers: Do speculative cover letters work?
Example covering letters
We have produced some examples of different types of covering letters below, to help you think about content, layout and how to demonstrate your skills. Please note that these are just examples - don't copy the content word-for-word; instead draw upon your own experiences.
Other useful examples
Sharing information about a disability
The following sites offer advice on sharing information about a disability with an employer:
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