Writing a cover letter, especially if you’ve never done it before, or for a job you really, really want, can be daunting. Questions people often ask us are:
- What’s the purpose of a cover letter?
- What should I put in it?
- How long should it be?
- How is it different to my CV?
This page will help you learn the answers to all these questions (and more) about how to write a cover letter – and why it’s different to your CV.
What’s the purpose of a cover letter?
Something we often hear from applicants is, “But they’ve got my CV, why do I need to write a letter, too?” Something to note is that not all employers will necessarily expect or ask for a cover letter. If you’re ever unsure about what the employer wants or needs at any stage of the recruitment process, we can’t stress this enough, ask them.
CVs are the simple bare facts - the evidence - of your skills, experiences, and achievements. A cover letter allows you to add personality and depth to your narrative. In Help with Interviews we talk about how thinking about your experiences as stories and using the STAR technique can help you convey your evidence more clearly to employers. Cover letters allow you to do the same in a written format. Taking the time to write a cover letter tailored to the role and the employer demonstrates your motivation.
What should I put in my cover letter?
An effective cover letter should answer 2 questions:
- Why them?
- Why you?
- Demonstrate you have researched the organisation. Check out our learning resources on The What, Why, and How of Researching Employers
- Using your research, explain clearly what it is about this particular opportunity (the company and the role) that interests you.
- If you've met a representative of the organisation at a career fair or presentation, mention it – it's good evidence of your engagement and motivation
- Clearly demonstrate exactly what makes you a good candidate for the role. Summarise relevant experience and skills in a concise manner.
- Back up what you're saying with evidence and make reference to the relevant sections of your CV. Perhaps choose 2 or 3 skills listed on your CV and elaborate on them.
- Some organisations give details about their brand values and the core qualities. Thread this language through your covering letter to reflect the match between your values and qualities and the organisation’s.
How long should it be?
Typically, a cover letter is no more than one page.
What do I do next?
Once you’ve got the basics of your cover letter writing sorted, you may want to talk to an Employability Adviser. They can help you refine your tailoring, help you translate your experience into a language your prospective employer will understand.
Employers, particularly SMEs, use cover letters as a way to evaluate candidates motivation and ability to do the job. It’s an opportunity for you to show how you will bring value to the organisation, and why you are the most suitable candidate for the job.
Learn even more about Cover Letters: