How to write a cover letter for a job application

Updated on 6 June 2024

You’ll usually send a covering letter or email along with your CV. A covering letter is a short document (usually A4) where you can tailor your application and highlight the most relevant aspects of your CV.

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Before you start writing a covering letter

While your CV should link to the area of work to which you are applying, the covering letter should link to the particular job. It should be tailored to the company or organisation, rather than a generic one-size-fits-all letter.

To do this you will need to research the organisation's:

  • values
  • work environment
  • training opportunities
  • products
  • location(s)

Be specific about why you are interested in the particular job or opportunity and aim to convey your enthusiasm for the role. You should ensure it highlights the key things you can offer and demonstrates your enthusiasm for the job.

Be clear about the skills you have that match the job requirements. Think about experiences you’ve had that will make you stand out from the crowd. Aim to highlight a key achievement, or detail a unique selling point that you have.

What should go into your covering letter

A well structured and concise covering letter should contain 4 elements:

  • brief opening paragraph stating what you are applying for, and where you saw it advertised.
  • one or more paragraphs about the opportunity. This should detail why you are interested in the company and the role and demonstrate your enthusiasm for both.
  • one or more paragraphs about you; what you've got to offer in terms of skills, experiences and knowledge clearly demonstrating how you meet the job requirements.
  • finish up with any administrative information such as availability for interview and end with a short positive statement.

Use formal language and clear paragraphs to structure your letter. Write to a named person whenever possible and use the correct salutations.

How to write a speculative covering letter

You may want to contact an organisation to enquire about jobs or work experience, even though no vacancies have been advertised. For this you will need to write a speculative covering letter. This will contain all the standard information but also bear in mind these additional points:

  1. Write to a named person. Do your research online or phone the organisation to find out who you should write to.
  2. Be specific. Be clear about what you are seeking and give options so that if no full-time paid position is available you would be considered for temporary work, an internship, voluntary work etc.
  3. Follow up. This is especially important in speculative approaches, but is always good practice. Indicate at the end of your letter that you will follow up with a phone call after a period of time to check that your letter reached the correct person and to discuss any opportunities further – then remember to actually do this!

Applying overseas

The conventions, requirements and content of cover letters can vary greatly depending on where in the world you apply. Even the names of these letters can differ – 'motivation letter' and 'letter of introduction' are two common alternatives.

The Careers Service’s GoinGlobal is a great resource which includes advice on the requirements for the country to which you are applying.

Another way to help you write the most effective and appropriate cover letter is to use existing or new networks (like family or friends already working in the country) to help you understand what works best there.

You can also check out the Country Profiles on Prospects and TARGETjobs.

Our careers advisers will be happy to provide you with feedback on your cover letters, wherever you are applying.

Book an appointment with a careers adviser