By Ali Norrel, 20.07.2021


It's easy to get freaked out about a cover letter, or equally to gloss over it and think that your CV will do the talking. In reality, a good cover letter sells you and your CV to potential employers. You've probably heard it before, but the majority of organisations are overwhelmed with applications and can only spend a few brief minutes scanning CVs, so it's tricky to stand out.

A good cover letter is concise, to the point and highlights your strengths and your enthusiasm for the role on offer right from the off. It does what a CV can't: it tells a story that sets you apart from the competition, whereas a CV is more a factual list of your experience and achievements.


A cover letter can be more tailored. Ideally, you’d do your research on the company you’re applying to and pick one detail to mention in your cover letter. This shows the company that you’re interested enough to have found out about the organisation and to show them that there’s something about them you like. A bit like Googling someone before a date, but not quite as creepy. A cover letter is also an opportunity for your personality to shine through; think of it as an opportunity to promote yourself.

It isn’t always clear from a job application whether you should submit a cover letter, but it's generally considered good practice to include one unless the employer specifically says not to. Also, if you have added one without being asked, it will only help you to stand out for having shown initiative and made an effort. If the application asks for a cover letter, absolutely send one. If you don’t, you’re showing that you’ve failed to follow the first instruction your potential employer has given you.

Imagine that a cover letter is persuading the reader, not just to look at your CV, but to meet you in person.

1. Research, research, research.

So easy and quick to do, but so often overlooked. The first step is to take some time to look into and read about the organisation whose job you're applying to. You might wonder why this is necessary if you're 'only' applying for an entry level position, but it's the clued up entry level employees who end up rising up through the company. It's an easy step to advance you in your job search and your future career.

Take some time to find out:

  • What does the company do? What do they sell?

  • Who are their competitors? Who else sells the same stuff?

  • Who are their target audience? Who are they selling it to?

  • What does the role involve? How do they sell?

  • What are the essential skills? What part does this particular role play in that process?

If you can supply an answer to these questions, you'll be able to map out clearly in your cover letter how your skills and abilities match up with what the employer is looking for. Ask yourself: what can I offer? What makes me brilliant?


Also, whether you think you'll remember the information or not, this knowledge will give you a good background to the industry and organisation you're applying to, and give you a confident edge in an interview. It shows that you've got a real interest in the company, and the role on offer. It's worth considering that sometimes, roles that appear uninteresting or irrelevant to your experience can feel very different once you've undertaken some research.

2. Getting it down

Your cover letter should be clear, simple, concise, and to-the-point.

This may sound obvious, but use an easy-to-read font (no fancy script), no multicolour text, no pictures and definitely no emojis.

Write using clear paragraphs–as a general rule, a paragraph should be two to three sentences covering one point. Be mindful of length: too long and you’ll risk putting off the reader but too short, and you’re unlikely to have covered everything.

Aim for half a side of A4 (or one page maximum), and you’ll be on the right track.

3. What's in a name?

Whenever humanly possible, a cover letter should be addressed to the person dealing with applications.

Usually, this will be shown somewhere in the job advert; but if it isn't, it's worthwhile doing a little detective work to find out. Visit the company's website and look through the staff page, check social media or simply call and ask. Why is this important? Because you'll be addressing your letter correctly, showing attention to detail. You'll also be showing initiative, which suggests genuine interest in the role.

If you find a name, address with ‘Dear Mr Smith/Dear Ms Jones’.

And if you don’t? Use 'To whom it may concern'.

4. What goes where?

There are no set rules on cover letter structure, but here's a paragraph by paragraph guideline to help you keep it to the point with a good flow to impress recruiters. Don't worry: even if your experience is minimal, you can highlight skills you have learned in other areas.

Opening paragraph – Why are you writing?

The opening paragraph should be short and to the point, explaining why you’re getting in touch.

Example: I wish to apply for the role of Digital Marketing Assistant, currently being advertised on website.co.uk. Please find enclosed my CV for your consideration.

Second paragraph – Why are you great for the job?

Briefly describe your skills and experience, including any relevant training courses and/or qualifications. As you do so, refer to the skills listed in the job description and match them up. If you've actually used the company or product yourself, tell them!

Example: I have a (specific qualification) in Digital Marketing and recently completed unRecruitment skills training with People and Their Brilliance. I am keen to apply all that I have learned and believe that my knowledge of (specific skill or experience), coupled with my enthusiasm to gain experience in this field make me a good candidate for the role.

Third paragraph – What can you do for the company?

Now’s your opportunity to emphasise what you can do for the company. Here, you can outline your skills, experience and career goals. Again, if experience is thin on the ground you can emphasise things such as your capability to learn and positive attitude.

Example:

Fourth paragraph – Say it again

Here’s where you reiterate your interest in the role and why you would be the right fit for it.

Example:

I am committed to applying my digital marketing knowledge to help your company raise its profile and am ready to start actively contributing to the business as soon as possible.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to meeting with you to discuss my application further.

Signing Off

Sign off your cover letter with ‘Yours sincerely’ (if you have addressed the recipient by name), or ‘Yours faithfully’ (if you've addressed it generically), followed by your name. Note the lower case 's' or 'f'.

Before you hit 'send'...

Check it. Read it through for spelling errors or mis-typed words, then read it through again, imagining you are the potential employer. Check you've addressed the recipient correctly, that you've included the right contact details and any attachments. Confident it’s fine now? Check it again. And when you do hit 'send' or post the envelope in the box, take a deep breath and feel confident.