What is a cover letter?

16 May Career Advice
If you have applied for a graduate opportunity recently you will have probably been asked to write a cover letter. But do you find yourself wondering – what is a cover letter? Isn’t my CV enough?

Well, in short, no. Not all the time. Some companies require a cover letter with each application, however some may not. Let’s break down exactly what a cover letter is and how to write one and make sure you get that next job.

For advice on CVs – click here, or for more Career Advice – click here.

What is it?

A cover letter is a supporting document which is tailored to accompany your CV for a specific vacancy. Cover letters are required for various types of jobs, including graduate programmes and internships, as well as standard graduate jobs.

The purpose of having one is that it acts as a personal introduction and can help sell your CV by highlighting and discussing relevant experience. It should be formatted like a formal letter or email, and should be addressed to a named contact if possible.

Cover letters are supposed to mirror your CV, but not duplicate it. The average length of a cover letter is no longer than a single A4 page, and usually consists of around 4-5 attention grabbing and concise paragraphs.

How to write a cover letter

A cover letter can be broken down in to 4 steps.

1: Opening Statement

This paragraph should set out why you are writing this letter. You should begin by stating the role you are applying for, where you saw the advert and why you are applying. This should not be copied from the personal statement on your CV. You can rephrase information and expand upon it, but never directly copy it and put it in your cover letter.

2: Why you?

The next paragraph or two is your opportunity to sell yourself. You should outline your suitability for the role by referring directly to the job description and what is required, relating this to your relevant skills AND experience (provide examples!).

Remember! As a student or graduate it is okay to discuss experience that is not directly related to the job you are applying for. Figure out how you can relate this experience and the skills you gained and transfer it to this new job.

3: Why them?

This paragraph is your chance to tell the company why you are interested in this role and the organisation. Before applying for the role, you should do some research on the company to make sure you are well-informed and knowledgeable. You should try and provide specific examples of the reasons why you want to work there, such as discussing a recent project they worked on, or the training they provide.

This is your chance to let the hiring manager know that you are interested in their role specifically and that you are not just sending a generic cover letter to all the companies you are applying for.

This paragraph can go before the Why you? paragraph or after it, the order does not matter.

4: Closing Statement

Use this paragraph to summarise your letter. Reaffirm your interest in the role and indicate your desire to be interviewed. You should state that you look forward to hearing from them and that should they require any further information, you are happy to provide it.

You should sign it off with your name as though you are signing a letter.

If you have addressed your letter to a named contact, you should finish with: Yours sincerely. If it is addressed to Dear Sir/Madam, you finish with: Yours faithfully.

Finally, the top 3 tips to make your cover letter stand out:
1. Be clear
2. Be concise
3. Be relevant

And don’t forget to check (and double check) your letter for spelling and grammar mistakes. If the recruiter spots one in your letter this can meet you have fallen at the first hurdle. It is important to demonstrate your attention to detail by making sure your letter is grammatically correct!

For more useful tips, read our blog on what NOT to ask in an interview, or find out how you can hunt down hidden jobs by writing a speculative application.

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