What is a Covering Letter?

What is a Covering Letter?A covering letter is a vital tool during the application process because employers often read the cover letter before the CV. If this is the case then your covering letter needs to be equally as impressive as your CV. A covering letter is a letter of introduction that highlights your main skills and your suitability for the role that you are applying for. From personal experience I can tell you that few employers will seriously consider a CV that is not accompanied by a covering letter.

My advice is whenever possible; send a covering letter with your CV because it demonstrates your level of motivation, commitment and relevant skills. There are a number of things to consider before you start writing your covering letter. Remember to always tailor your covering letter to the advertised role/position. Try to show evidence that you have researched the role, company or the industry. Finally, illustrate why you are attracted to the role and what your unique selling points are. If you can address all these areas, then you are well on your way to producing a very high standard covering letter.

Consider the following when writing a covering letter;

  • Don’t use brightly coloured paper. Use white A4 paper and make sure that the paper is good quality and not cheap. Use the same colour as you would for a CV. Try not to go over one side of A4. When applying by email, add the letter as an attachment.

  • Try and get the name of the person who you are sending the covering letter to even if you have to contact the organisation. Addressing your covering letter to a named person often makes the person receiving your letter feel special.

  • Use a professional tone that’s easy to understand. Don’t use vague statements or clichés. Never include any negative information. Make it short and to the point.

  • Relate your skills, qualifications and experiences to the job requirements and wherever possible, relate yourself to the company.

  • Use Action words or Power phrases to make it sound better and more appealing.
  • Say when you are available to start work.
  • End your letter by requesting an interview.
  • Highlight three to four key accomplishments/skills/experiences.
  • Spell-check the whole letter. Avoid all types of mistakes, including typos and grammatical errors. If you’re still not satisfied get someone to proof read it before you send it off.

Structure of a covering letter

First Paragraph

  • State the role/position you are applying for (i.e. Post Room Clerk)
  • Where you found out about the job (i.e. Birmingham Evening Mail, Job center plus website)

Second Paragraph

  • State the reasons why you are interested in that type of work

Third Paragraph

  • What attracts or impresses you about the company (i.e. reputation, good career prospects, excellent graduate training program, good working life)

Fourth Paragraph

  • Summarize your key strengths and demonstrate how these strengths can benefit or add value to the company
  • Match your skills and personal attributes to the job advert

Fifth Paragraph

  • Thank the employer and say that you look forward to hearing from them soon
  • If you’re going on holiday or have specific dates that you are unavailable for an interview, mention these dates

Remember, if you start your covering letter with a named person (e.g. “Dear Mr. Benson”), you should normally end it with “Yours Sincerely”. If you start the letter with “Dear Sir or Madam” you should end it with “Yours Faithfully”.

Covering letter templates

Emailed covering letters

Covering letters can be sent either by post or email. The latter is now becoming increasingly popular with employers. If you choose to send a covering letter via email than its essential that you get the format right. Put your covering letter as the body of the email. If you’re unsure about how to do this, check out the following link; Emailed covering letter example. Make sure that the emailed covering letter is easy on the eye and is in the same font as your CV.

There’s no doubt emails have become an integral part of our everyday lives. It seems that employers have now jumped on this band wagon and prefer to communicate with jobseekers via email. On paper it seems straight forward; I mean how difficult is it to send an email and what can possibly go wrong? The answer to this question is complex and can sometimes be the difference between you getting an interview and not getting one.

We’ve all at some point accidently sent an email to the wrong person, perhaps attributing our mistake to a lapse of concentration or fatigue. Sometimes a quick phone call followed by an apology usually sorts this out but unfortunately the same cannot be said about employers. They are neither understanding nor sympathetic to human error and can penalise you for incorrectly spelling their name or getting their job title wrong. It is therefore imperative that, if you are using email to apply for jobs then you need to consider the following;

  • In the subject box, you can include either the job reference number or the job title. Leaving the subject box blank is not advisable and can sometimes make you seem lazy.

  • Don’t forget to attach your CV and/or any other supporting evidence/files for the application. Whilst on the subject of files, remember to save your CV and files in a format that the recipient can open. For example, if you have created a CV on a Mac, this could cause problems for anyone using a PC.

  • In some cases you might want to send your emailed covering letter to lots of different employers. If that’s the case then, make sure you’ve got the right name, for the right company, and the right address. Don’t send the same covering letter to several different companies. Each covering letter should be carefully tailored to the job role that you are applying for.

  • Remember to use a professional email address, not something you randomly thought of during the early part of your college or university life. There are a couple of strange examples that spring to mind but something similar to, ladiesman1978@hotmail.com should be avoided at all costs.

  • Once you are happy with the email and have thoroughly checked it for spelling mistakes and typos, insert the recipients address. Make sure the recipients address is right otherwise when you send the email it will bounce back. To avoid this, cut and paste the email address from the job advert.

  • Finally, before you click the send button, get a friend or a family member to check it. If you can’t find anyone to check it for you, do one FINAL check yourself. You can never be too careful.

Speculative covering letters

There are a number of reasons why you would probably write a speculative covering letter. For example, your letter may be purely speculative or submitted on the basis of information received from someone who works for the company (e.g. “I am writing to enquire whether you have any vacancies within your care home for a person with my skills and experience either now or in the future”).

In some cases, it might be in response to something you read in a local newspaper or a magazine where a company has won a major contract or is expecting to expand (e.g. “I read a recent article in the local newspaper that you won a large contract with job center plus to get single parents back into work……I would like to be considered for any positions available”). Whatever the reason, make sure you highlight your main skills in terms of what you think the employer is looking for. Try to get your speculative covering letter to a named person with the company. You may have to telephone the company to find out the name of the person who is responsible for recruitment. Although, this might be a long drawn process it’s worthwhile in the long term because the employer will appreciate the effort you have put into your application.

Structure of a speculative covering letter

Speculative covering letters are usually three to four paragraphs in length; consider the structure of a speculative covering letter below.

First Paragraph

  • My name is …… and I am currently seeking employment as………
  • I read in my local paper that you recently secured a large contract with………
  • An employee of yours recently suggested to me that you might have an opening in your HR department for a………

Highlight skills & experience

  • I understand that you do employ people with my background, which includes 5 years’ experience with XYZ and so thought that you might be interested in my application……

Closing statement

  • I would welcome the opportunity to meet with you in person and look forward to your positive response.