How to write a cover letter
Why is a cover letter important and what should you say in yours? Make the right impression with our tips and examples...
- What is a cover letter and why is it important?
- When do you need a cover letter?
- How should you structure your cover letter?
- What should go in your cover letter?
- Cover letter examples
What is a cover letter and why is it important?A cover letter is a letter that you write about yourself and submit alongside your CV when applying for a job. Within it you explain why you’re the right candidate for that role, based on your experience and skills.
A potential employer might use it as an ‘introduction to you’ before moving on to your CV, so it’s important to make a strong impression here.
Like you would tailor your CV to the specific role you’re applying for, you should write a cover letter with a particular job in mind.
You can use your cover letter in a couple of other ways. For instance, you can address any mitigating circumstances that might deter someone from hiring you. An example would be explaining a valid reason for any gaps in your job history (such as illness).
The concise, bullet point structure of a CV can make it hard to stand out. But the narrative structure of a cover letter gives you more room to come across as a real person, rather than just a faceless candidate. Be careful about sounding too informal or standing out for all the wrong reasons, such as trying to be funny.
When do you need a cover letter?A job application should explicitly say whether or not to include a cover letter with your CV.
If you include one when you’ve been asked not to, a potential employer might just skip it and jump straight into your CV. The worst case? You’ve shown you’re not very good at following simple instructions.
If you don’t include a cover letter, you could include a short introduction at the beginning of your CV (space permitting) to do the same job. We cover introductions in our guide to writing a CV.
If a job description doesn’t say anything about a cover letter, play it safe and include one just in case. It’s an excellent opportunity to demonstrate your writing skills if this is an important aspect of the role.
University or college students applying for a part-time job probably won’t need to include a cover letter.
How should you structure your cover letter?We go into more detail below about what you should include in your cover letter, depending on your experience and the sort of job you’re applying for. This includes the key information to have at the top, who to address it to and how to sign off.
It might be helpful to view your cover letter like a personal statement that you write when applying to university. However, a cover letter is much shorter: it should be no longer than roughly three quarters of one side of A4 (white) paper, and broken up into a few short paragraphs.
Like your CV, stick to a sensible font type, size and colour.
If you’re emailing over an electronic version of your cover letter, send a PDF version (so it appears as it should, regardless of the device its opened on) with a clear filename.
What should go in your cover letter?
1) Contact detailsYou should include the same contact information at the top of your cover letter as you would for your CV, in case it gets separated.
Like a letter, the following should be at the top of the page (left or right-aligned):
- full name
- phone number (home and mobile)
- email address
- current address (doesn't have to be in full).
Protecting your personal data: explore Which? Consumer Rights advice on looking after your personal information.
2) Who to address your cover letter toLike all letters, a cover letter is written to a specific person and therefore needs to be addressed to them at the start.
The job listing should say who this is. This can be a human resources (HR) manager who's in charge of recruitment for that employer, but it could also be a manager or the person you would report to if you get the job.
If the job listing doesn’t clarify who this is, don’t be afraid to get in touch directly by phone or email. This shows initiative and is an early opportunity to make a personal connection, which can work in your favour.
If you’re struggling to find an individual to address your cover letter to, you may write ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ or ‘To whom it may concern’ instead.
3) Clarify the role you're applying toBegin simply by stating the role you are applying for. Sometimes it can be useful to say how/where you heard about the role, whether it was on a particular website or through a friend or peer – the latter suggests that person is recommending you, which might give you a small advantage.
Now you’ve clarified the role you’re applying for, you can highlight why you’re the perfect candidate for it.
4) Describe your current status and general experienceNext, say who you are – easy, right?
You don’t need to tack on any bells and whistles.
- If you’re a school/college student applying for a part-time job: say where you go to school, what year you’re in and what you’re studying. You may want to drop in your forthcoming plans for the future (if you have any):
This may be relevant if you’re applying to a degree apprenticeship too.
- If you’re a graduate applying for that first job out of uni: say where you’ve graduated from and your qualification (including classification):
Let them know if you’ve taken a gap year since graduating, including what you did (and preferably how it’s made you a strong candidate for this role).
- If you’re currently working and applying for another job: outline the field/s you’ve been working in, including some of your key responsibilities or specific areas of focus:
By highlighting a few of the areas you’ve been involved with, you may be kept in mind for another role if you're unsuccessful here.
4) Why you’re looking for a new roleYou may want to touch on why you’re applying to this role, especially if you’re currently employed. Below are some tips about tailoring this to the role you're applying to.
- Do you want to move into a totally new area? Perhaps one that you’ve had a taste of and really enjoyed?
- Do you want to do the same role, but in a different sector? Such as moving from a marketing position for a commercial business to a charity?
- Are you looking for more responsibility? Which you can’t get in your current role, in order to progress on to a long-term goal?
- Have your personal circumstances changed? An example would be relocating to be closer to family.
5) Demonstrate your key strengths and achievementsNow it’s time to show what you’ve done or achieved up to now, and how this makes you the perfect fit for the role in question (including any standout achievements or stats to back this up).
Don’t forget to relate these to the key skills or knowledge that have been set out in the job description, and use the extra space to elaborate on these – don’t just repeat what’s in your CV word for word.
- If you’re a school/college student applying for a part-time job (or a degree apprenticeship): what have you achieved in your studies that demonstrates these key skills?
Alternatively, are you involved in any sports teams where you’ve worked closely with and/or motivated others?
- If you’re a graduate applying for that first job out of uni: like above, think about what you’ve achieved academically. For example, did you get a first class degree? Have you specialised in a relevant area?
- If you’re currently working and applying for another job: you’ll have already mentioned the general areas you have experience in, but now it’s time to highlight the impact you’ve made.
Key targets you've achieved:
Or being part of a project that’s been big news in your field:
6) Why that company/organisation/field?This is your opportunity to show you’ve taken some initiative, done your research and are passionate about getting this role in particular. You want to prove this isn’t just another application out of a hundred you’ve churned out.
Is there something about this role that makes it stand out from similar roles elsewhere?
Is the organisation entering a particularly significant period that you’re keen to be a part of (and most importantly, that you feel you can contribute to in a big way)?
Is the role or organisation involved in something you’re personally invested in?
This is where it may help to mention any ambitions or goals you have for the future, although be careful not to take your eye off the role you’re applying for (and definitely don’t make it sound like you want to steal your manager’s job!).
7) Conclusion: reiterate (with impact)Finish up with a short, punchy conclusion reiterating some of the key aspects you’ve outlined above – don’t drag it out.
Do this in a way that will make an employer excited to meet you for an interview (or at least get across your enthusiasm to meet them and learn more about the role).
If you’ve addressed your cover letter to a specific individual, sign off with ‘Yours sincerely’; if you don’t know the name of the recipient, stick to ‘Yours faithfully’.
Cover letter examplesAs well as the examples we’ve given above, you can find cover letter templates on Indeed (including job-specific letters), Prospects and Reed.
Is your CV the best it can be? Read our CV how-to guide including how to structure your CV and what not to do.