A cover letter literally “covers” your résumé or CV: it’s your opportunity to say why you want the job and to present yourself as a candidate in a way that impresses a prospective employer and makes you stand out as a prospective employee. Employers may receive hundreds of applications for a job, so make sure your cover letter creates the right impression.
Click on one of the below headings for more information:
Example cover letters
Speculative job applications
Letters requesting an informational interview
- Tailor your letter to the requirements of the job. Read the job posting carefully.
- Research the organization. This will show prospective employers that you really are interested.
- Keep it brief. Your goal is a clear and concise explanation of your suitability for the job. Your résumé is the place for more details.
- Use keywords. Make sure the same keywords you used to describe your skills and experience on your résumé are also present in your cover letter.
- If you know who you’re writing to, use that name, exactly as it appears in the job posting. If no name is provided, write Dear Hiring Manager.
Read more top tips for cover letter writing.
Use formal letter format for a letter you’re mailing or handing to someone in person. If you’re emailing your cover letter, omit both your own return address and the address of the company. Application instructions may tell you what to put in your subject line. If not, make sure to include the job title and one or more keywords, if you have room.
Your first paragraph should open with a clear statement of the job you’re applying for, by title and reference code if one is provided.
- State where you saw the job posting or how you heard about it.
- If you heard about it through someone who already works for the company or someone known to the company, mention that person by name and position.
Your second paragraph should briefly outline your current situation.
- Mention your current job, if you have one, and any previous jobs that are relevant to the position you’re applying for.
- Pick up on the job requirements stated in the posting and focus on any of your current skills or responsibilities that correspond to those requested. For example, if the job description says that management skills are essential, briefly state any management experience you have.
- If you’re still studying, focus on the relevant aspects or modules of your courses.
Your third paragraph explains why you want the job and why you’re the right person for it.
- Be clear and positive. You might state that you are ready for greater challenges, more responsibility, or a change of direction, for example.
- Outline the qualities and skills that you believe you can bring to the job or organization, making sure they match the job posting.
- If you are still in school or have very little experience, paragraphs 2 and 3 can be combined.
Your final paragraph should let your readers know:
- When you’re available for an interview
- How to reach you (include email address and phone number, even though it’s also on your résumé)
- Whether you’ll follow up and when, or that you look forward to hearing from them. Some postings will specify “no phone calls”; be sure to respect these instructions.
Always thank the recruiter or employer for their time or for consideration.
Example cover letters
Here are three examples of job application cover letters:
To view their corresponding résumés, visit Writing a résumé.
Speculative job applications
If you know that you want to work for a particular company or organization but they don’t have any openings, consider submitting a speculative application. This should consist of your résumé, tailored to the type of job you’re interested in, together with a cover letter of application.
- Keep your letter short and positive; say why you are particularly interested in working for the organization in question and outline what skills, qualifications, and personal qualities you have to offer.
- If possible, address your cover letter to the person in the organization who is charge of recruiting new staff. You can find this out by consulting the organization’s website, by phoning, conducting online research elsewhere, if the website doesn’t provide the information you’re looking for.
Here’s an example of a speculative job application letter (pdf).
Letters requesting an informative interview
Another valuable job-hunting technique is to request an informational interview. Here, you’re asking to speak with someone in an organization you’re interested in, so your letter will be similar to the one you’d write for a speculative application. The main differences would be:
- In your first paragraph you’ll request an informational interview to learn more about this company in particular and the field in general. You might write something like I’d welcome the opportunity for an informational interview at your convenience.
- You’ll only have one body paragraph, outlining your qualifications for and interest in working in this field.
- In your final paragraph, you’ll offer to follow up to try to arrange a convenient time to meet or speak.
Back to Applying for a job.
You may also be interested in:
Writing a résumé
Writing an impressive job application
See more from Job applications
They say it’s never too early to make a bad impression, and this is entirely the case when it comes to cover letters. Even the smallest error may cause employers to put your application at the bottom of the pile or even throw it out completely. And so, with competition for graduate jobs as high as it’s ever been, here’s how to avoid the mistakes that everyone and their mum has made at least once when writing a cover letter.
1. Being overly formal
Depending on the types of graduate jobs you’re going for, this can be a make or break scenario. For example, if you’re writing a cover letter for a job at a top city firm, then formality will be very important. But, in comparison, if the hiring company is a trendy creative agency, it might be more conducive to take a more informal approach to show you would fit in with the organizational culture.
Either way, when applying for any role within any industry, your tone of address should be fully considered. With a small amount of research into the company and its values, you’ll be able to not only write in a style that fits the organization, but you’ll also be able to address the recruiter by his or her name, avoiding the awkward “sir/madam” approach.
2. Being too informal
On the opposing side of the court is the peril of being too informal. Being too jokey, too personal or too casual may send the message that you’re not serious about the job and therefore probably not the right person to fill the role. Sure, a conversational tone will often be well received, but if you do choose this tack, make sure that you stay professional (no anecdotes of a heavy night previous), don’t go off on too many tangents (no anecdotes about your cat), and don’t be tempted to force the niceness – a friendly tone is always better when it comes naturally.
In addition, a conversational tone is no excuse for sloppy writing. Whichever road you take, your cover letter should be extremely well-written and error-free. See point number five!
3. Using a stock cover letter
Using a stock cover letter is quick and efficient and can allow you to apply to multiple graduate jobs very quickly. Be that as it may, you’ll be better off chucking it in the bin. As short as you are on time and money, using a stock cover letter to apply for graduate jobs shows laziness as well as a suggestion that you’re not really bothered about that particular position. More often than not, employers can spot these stock cover letters a mile off.
As a compromise, you might want to make a list (bullet points or short paragraphs) of all the reasons why you are great, what skills you’ve learned recently and what you’re particularly good at in your current role. Then, when applying for a specific job, look at this list and include the points that are most relevant to the job in your cover letter. That way, not only are you going to remember everything worth mentioning about yourself, but you’re also going to sound fresh and invested in every application.
4. Saying too much
Unless it’s entirely relevant to the job you’re applying for, leave it out. Recruiters are short on time, and generally just want a quick snapshot of who you are. Yes, it can be good to mention a hobby or interests outside of work, but this is not what is going to get you the job, so keep the emphasis on your relevant experience; skip the paragraph about your cupcake-baking skills.
On the other side of the coin, cover letters that are too short (less than two paragraphs) will often look too sparse. As a general rule, aim to fill roughly three-quarters of an A4 page when writing a cover letter.
5. Forgetting to proofread
If you’re the sort of person who writes cover letters directly into an email, ready to be sent off to the next unsuspecting employer, then you might want to start taking a different approach.
Although it’s likely your email system will already have an in-built spell checker, the chances are that it isn’t quite as rigorous as an actual word processor program. This may cause you to miss a number of spelling or grammatical mistakes or even cause you to use spell check in the wrong language (US English instead of UK English, for example).
Even when you’ve used a word processor, written your text up and meticulously checked for errors in grammar, spelling and punctuation, you should check again. Twice more.
Nobody likes braggers, and that includes hiring managers. The difficulty with writing a cover letter, however, is that in order to sell yourself and show off your skills, you’re going to have to talk yourself up quite a lot.
The secret in treading the line between confidence and egotism is to phrase yourself matter-of-factly when mentioning skills. If you have working HTML skills, say ‘I have working HTML skills’ and back that up if you can. Try to avoid claims such as “I’m a master of Microsoft office” or “I have superior leadership skills”. By using unsupported hyperbolic language like “master”, you may sound as if you are exaggerating your skills. How are you a master? Did you train with Microsoft Office monks for a year in Tibet? No? Well then.
7. Focusing too much on yourself
This one is definitely an easy mistake to make, due to the fact it is your cover letter, your job application and your future. But employers really don’t care about how their company fits your needs (before they hire you, at least). What they do care about is what you can bring to their company and how the company will benefit from hiring you. Structure your cover letter from the viewpoint of your prospective employer, and talk about yourself in relation to what you can bring to the company, not the other way around.
8. Clumsy language
There’s never an excuse for clumsy language, whether you’re applying for journalism jobs, accounting jobs or engineering jobs. It may seem harsh, particularly if English is not your first language, but you’ve got to remember that more and more employers today will rule you out for the slightest of linguistic mishaps, simply due to the mountains of applications they have to wade through.
If English is your second language or writing is not your strongest skill, you may want to get someone (a native speaker) to read through your cover letter before sending it off.
9. Bad layout
You might not be applying for a job that requires design skills, but this doesn’t mean you can entirely neglect the layout of your cover letter. To make your cover letter look visually pleasing, use a standard font, break up your paragraphs into small, readable chunks and use the same font size throughout.