Writing cover letters

Job applications

With an in-tray full of applications an employer will spend approximately 20 seconds casting an eye over each, you have to unsure that in that brief time your cover letter has sufficient impact to make the reader want to know more about you.

A covering letter builds upon the information you provided in your CV, it is a focussed sales pitch stating clearly in simple language just why this company should employ you. All of its contents should reaffirm to the reader that you are the right person for that job.


Before you sit down to write your letter do some research on the company and into the role to which you are applying. The easiest way to do this is on the Internet. Be sure you know exactly what the company does and how they are placed amongst their competitors.

Try to gauge what the company's business plan is, for example if they have they spent a lot of money on a flashy Webster they could be hoping to expand more into online sales. As accurately as you can try to know exactly what will be expected of you should you get the job, for example what are a Marketing Manager's duties, what qualities they should posses?

Carrying out research shows to the employer that you have initiative and that you are genuinely interested in the company, it will also allow you to use style and terminology that is appropriate to the audience. For example the company may be relaxed or very formal, new or established, rapidly expanding or in the doldrums.

If you are applying for an advertised position have the job advert in front of you and refer to it frequently. With a marker pen circle all of the job's requirements on the advertisement and be sure to address each of them in the letter.

Addressing your covering letter

It is imperative that you address your letter carefully. After spending time wording it to perfection you do not want it to be directed to the wrong person or to go astray.

If you are applying for an advertised vacancy there is probably a contact name on that advert, and so address your letter to that person, e.g. Mr I.P Freely.

If you are writing to a company for a job when they have not advertised a vacancy, the chances are that unless you have contacts on the inside you will not know the name of the person you need to write too. In this case you can address your letter to the manager of the specific depart to which you are applying, for example Marketing Manager, Sales Manager, or else you can send it to the Human Resources Manager or Personnel Manager. Go onto the company's WebPages and see if you can track down the name of a relevant recipient. Alternatively give the company a call and ask for the name of the head of department to which you are applying.

You should make sure that the recipient's name, department and address details on the envelope are the same as at the top of the letter.

Beginning the letter

Dear Mr Coxon - If you know the name of the person to whom you are writing,
Dear Ms Chambers - If you are not sure of the marital status of the female recipient
Dear Sir/Madam - If you are in totally in the dark as to the name of the recipient

Opening Paragraph

The opening paragraph should be short and hard-hitting. Begin with an arresting sentence in which you explain why it is you are writing, for example 'I would like to be considered for the position of Marketing Manager'. If you are applying for an advertised position then say where you saw the advert, ' In response to the Marketing Manager job vacancy advertised in 'Marketing Weekly'. If someone referred you to your contact, mention your friend's referral in this section.

Examples of opening paragraphs:

1. In response to the advertised position in The Guardian on July12th, please consider my résumé in your search for a Client/Server Architect.

2. I was pleased to hear from Jeremy Green that you will soon have a vacancy for a Marketing Assistant. I am very interested in this position, and I think that with my skills I could be an asset to your company.

3. Having recently read in The Times of 'The Liederhosen Company's' plans for expansion, I am writing to establish whether this will involve an increase in personnel. As a final year business student at Durham University, I am seeking a position in January that will develop my marketing and finance skills.

4. I am writing to apply for the Photographic Assistant position advertised in the November 1 listing of In The Buff Magazine.

Second Paragraph

Why should an employer be interested in hiring you? Briefly describe your professional and academic qualifications that are relevant to the position. If the job was advertised refer to all of the required skills written therein.

Third Paragraph

Emphasise what you can do for the company, not vice versa. Outline a relevant career goal, for example if you are applying for Sales positions do not say that you are training to be an airline pilot. Incorporate your research. Expand on the most relevant points of your CV

Fourth Paragraph

Request action, for example indicate your desire for a personal interview and that you're able to meet with the employer are their convenience

Some job adverts ask you to include salary requirements, you can choose to ignore this, opting instead to wait until the interview to talk about money, or include a broad salary range, for example £16 - 20K.

Closing the letter

Finish your letter 'Yours sincerely' then do not forget to sign it. Write an enclosure line at the bottom.


As with standard formal letter writing, your address goes at the top right hand corner, miss a line and then put the date. The recipient's address goes on the left side on the line after the date. See example:

Mr Hugh Jazz
22 Lower Street

May 12, 2001
Pete Moss
Personnel Manager
The Catering Company

Employ appropriate margin and paragraph spacing so that your letter is not bunched up at the top of the page but is evenly distributed and balanced. The covering letter should only be one page long.

The envelope should look as professional as its contents. Do not use any fancy stationary, a simple white envelope is best. Use a good pen, with black ink and use your best hand. Alternatively the envelope can be typed.

Always type your covering letter and use the same quality plain paper onto which you printed your CV and do not use any exotic fonts. You may be are specifically asked to hand write your letter since some companies employ a graphologist to analyse your hand writing. If you have a very shaky style it means you drink too much.

Important points to note

Check list:
1. Keep it short
2. State the position to which you are applying
3. Explain why you want the job
4. Clearly describe ways you will contribute
5. Match, but don't reiterate, your CV
6. Don't say you're not qualified make every statement positive
7. Keep the tone and content professional
8. Tell the reader what you're going to do next - e.g. call within a week
9. Proofread

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