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How to write a covering letter

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Always include a covering letter if you are using a CV to apply for a job. It is the covering letter that will encourage the employer to read your CV. You will use it to emphasise key points about your own background and experience which are particularly relevant to the position you are seeking.

Do:

  • Use one side of white A4 paper and type it unless you are asked to send it handwritten.
  • If possible, address it to a person by name - just call the organisation and ask, if it's not clear elsewhere.
  • Set out your letter as a formal business letter.
  • Check for spelling or grammatical errors.
  • Use correct endings: ‘Yours sincerely' where you have named the recipient, otherwise ‘Yours faithfully'.
  • Remember to sign the letter and print your name under the signature.
  • Use the same font as your CV so that they look consistent.
  • Tailor your covering letter to each application and try to highlight skills and experience that are relevant to the employer.
  • Keep a copy.

Don't:

  • Waffle. Make the employer want to read your CV.
  • Be overly humourous or too informal - you want to be taken seriously.
  • Underplay your skills or make negative comments about yourself.

Structure of a covering letter

The first paragraph should state what you are applying for, or where your saw the vacancy that interests you. Include any reference number that may have been given in the vacancy advertisement.

Your second paragraph explains why you are interested in the position and gives evidence to support your claims. It can also refer to relevant experience you may have had.

The third paragraph expands on your suitability for the position, again with evidence and examples. It can elaborate on skills you have and refer back to information given in your CV.

Your fourth paragraph sums up the letter and ends with a courteous remark such as ‘I look forward to hearing from you'.

Don't forget to end the letter appropriately and to sign it, if applying on paper.

Email applications

If you are sending your CV as an email attachment then you should also attach your covering letter rather than type it into the body of the email message. The format of an email can change drastically depending on the system used by the employer and may not look the same when it arrives or be easy to read.