A cover letter, or covering letter, is a short letter typically sent to employers to accompany your CV or application form. It provides you with the opportunity to briefly introduce yourself and tell the employer things (of interest) that are not covered elsewhere in your application.
There is some debate about the value of covering letters and how useful they are to employers. Do they really read them? Do they influence your application? While every employer is different, many do still value a cover letter – as long as it’s brief. Most employers will only spend around 30 seconds scanning your cover letter, so the challenge is to pack as much value as possible into it.
What we're essentially saying is this: a well-constructed and intelligent covering letter can add value to your application. A piece of paper saying “please find enclosed my application for the post of xx” with no further information will not. The purpose of a covering letter is threefold: to sell yourself, to highlight any particular information from your CV or resume which is especially notable or relevant, and to communicate any other information such as special circumstances or availability for interview.
A great cover letter will add value to your application.
Is it Worth Including a Cover Letter?
Absolutely yes. Cover letters give you the chance to tell the employer a bit more about yourself, in your own words. You can tell them why you are interested in the opportunity and what you think you could bring to the role if recruited. They enable you to share your understanding and insight into their industry, sector or organisation. In short, they help bring your CV to life and tell the employer why they should invite you to interview. If an employer is unsure about your suitability based on you CV and experience, a great cover letter can tip the balance in your favour and help you get the all-important interview.
Five Common Cover Letter Mistakes (And How to Avoid Them)
Many people fail to really exploit the benefits a great cover letter can provide. They either don't include one at all, or they fall into a number of traps that reduce the effectiveness of their letters. Let’s take a look at some of these:
Covering letters must be brief. A maximum of one side of A4. It should be easy to read, with plenty of white space and in a legible font. Writing a long and dense cover letter is counter-productive, as the employer will simply not read it.
There is no value in a cover letter that merely repeats the information you’ve already given in your CV. Take the opportunity to tell the recruiter something new; something that will help them feel that you are exactly the right candidate for them.
Candidates who fill their cover letters with lists of skills are missing an opportunity if they do not substantiate them. There is little value to the employer in hearing that you’ve got great team-work skills – everyone says this – but hearing that you’ve demonstrated those skills doing xx, explaining what you brought to that team, and what the team achieved, is of far more interest. It demonstrates that you genuinely are someone with those skills.
Cover letters must also be specific to the particular role and employer. Any candidate who includes a generic cover letter is showing a lack of commitment and interest in the particular role and the employer will pick up on this. Take the time to really explain why you are interested in the role and what you could contribute. Make it personal.
On a similar note, check that the details you’ve included within the cover letter are correct. There’s nothing worse than receiving a cover letter applying for a different role, particularly one that is with a competitor!
How to get your Cover Letter Right
One way to think of your cover letter is to see it as a sales pitch. You need to sell yourself – and your skills and experience – to the potential employer. Demonstrating that you understand their business and sector is a great place to start. If you can solve a problem or create an opportunity for the recruiter, that’s even better.
Great cover letters are brief, interesting and tailored to the role/organisation the candidate is applying to. This tailoring of approach can include anything from highlighting particular skills or experiences, to talking about challenges or opportunities within a sector, right through to the layout and language you use. If you’re applying for a creative role in a dynamic and trendy sector, you can be more daring in your cover letter. Whereas if you’re applying for a role in a very traditional organisation, you may benefit from keeping it formal.
Cover letters are also a chance to answer any questions the employer may have after reading your CV. If you have any gaps in your employment history, you can explain them within the cover letter. If you have an unusual career path, you can talk about the reasons for this (and why it is a benefit).
Cover Letter Templates: Three Examples
There is a four-paragraph structure that works particularly effectively for cover letters, which gives you the opportunity to explain who you are and what you think you could bring to the role. This is used in the three example templates for cover letters below (click on each link to see a full version of each letter).
Think of your cover letter as a sales pitch for yourself.
Cover Letter Checklist
Your letter is addressed to someone specific. This is particularly important for speculative cover letters. Assuming you have addressed someone by name, end the letter with 'Yours Sincerely'.
The role and organisation on your cover letter is correct.
You have explained why you are interested in the role and what you feel you could bring to the organisation if recruited. Remember to compliment firms on their reputation or other characteristics associated with their values.
You have mentioned any relevant qualifications and work experience.
The layout is clear and attractive with plenty of white space and margins.
The tone and language you use in your cover letter is appropriate for the organisation you are applying to.
You conclude the letter with a request for action, such as: "I look forward to the opportunity to discuss this opportunity with you in person." Make sure you have included your telephone number in the cover letter.
Use the structure set out in the example cover letters as a guide. Make sure that when your letter is finished, your spelling and grammar is flawless. A carelessly written cover letter will almost always equal rejection.