The ins and outs of cover letters

The essentials you need to know to write a strong cover letter. 

A cover letter is typically submitted along side your CV for a graduate application. It’s a single A4 page giving you the opportunity to highlight your most relevant skills and express your enthusiasm and motivation for the job and employer. Here are the four key parts of a cover letter and how to use that limited space to sell yourself and skills.


The graduate cover letter

1. The Opening

Simple, tell them which job you are applying for (if the job has a reference number then include it), where you saw it and why you are applying.

It is always better to address your cover letter to a name (a.k.a. a person, not the company). If there isn’t t a name listed in the job description then give the organisation a call. It’s super important to make sure you get their name and title correct (Mr, Miss, Mrs, Ms, or Dr?), as some people may feel very strongly about how they are addressed. If you can’t t get a name then remember that ‘Dear Sir/ Madam’ letters finish; ‘Yours faithfully’, and  named letters finish with; ‘Yours sincerely’.

Avoid: Saying that you cannot convey how excited you are about this opportunity, it just makes recruiters think you’re an idiot or lazy… or both. You need to articulate the reasons for applying.

2. Why you?

While the whole letter is about you, the first two paragraphs are dedicated to why you are suited to this role. In this segment you need to refer directly to the job description and skills, abilities and knowledge you have. Remember to always include examples for the skills and job based knowledge, do NOT copy and paste statements from your CV. Try to rephrase the information or expand it.

While at a graduate level you may not have work experience that directly relates to the profession you are applying to, that  is alright. It is more important to show that your current experience can be transferred into the job you are applying to. Examples from part-time jobs, academic work and extracurricular activities will all help you in demonstrating that you have used and developed the necessary skills.

Avoid: Saying that your past skills allow you to excel in everything, you just sound like you are overselling. Recruiters are fully aware that no one can learn everything, so be detailed and specific about the skills you have.

3. Why them?

Now that you have done you, you need to focus on the company. This next paragraph should be all about why you’re interested in this job and company, and what made you want to apply. It is super important that you take the opportunity to target your cover letter, otherwise it will look like you are spamming your CV and covering letters to anyone and everyone (not a great look for you).

Make sure that you have done your research. Re-read the job description and company pages. This  will help you show the recruiter what attracts you to their company and why you are interested in working for them in that particular role.

Avoid: Being vague about what company they are. Be specific about why the company/job/culture attracts you, and definitely use examples.

Steps 2 and 3 can be swapped around, so long as you remember to cover both ‘why you’ and ‘why them’.

4. The ending

The closing paragraph is about reaffirming suitability to the role and your enthusiasm to the prospect of working with the employer. Remember to state that you look forward to hearing from them and you are happy to provide any extra information or answer any questions if needed. Also don’t forget to sign the letter, or just print your name, before sending it.


When to write a covering letter

You must write a cover letter both when you are asked to submit one with your CV or application form, and also when you send a CV via email. Remember to name your files and attachments appropriately (and send the correct ones!) and to use suitable and professional subject lines, a smart and easy way of doing this is to use the job name and reference.

There are two ways to send your covering letter via email;

  • Attach both the CV and the covering letter to your email. Make the email a brief message saying that your application for the vacancy (give the relevant details) is attached.

  • Write the covering letter directly into the email. You could include your contact details as a signature at the end. Attach your CV.

Check the job description before applying to check if there are any specific instructions on how your application should be sent. Never skip out on the opportunity to send a cover letter with your CV, it will always help to boost your application.


Memorable and concise

You’ll stand out if you:

  • Don’t waffle- if you can say it in 9 words then don’t use 24.

  • Match your skills and experience to the requirements in the job description- do your research!

  • Avoid generalised statements and clichés- specific statements look better, ALWAYS!

  • Express yourself clearly

Remain formal and professional, but straightforward (don’t tongue tie yourself). Remember to check your cover letter. Reading it outloud will get you to spot those long sentences, which you can rewrite, and then check everything makes sense again!


Check, check, check

Avoid: Handing in a cover letter riddled with mistakes, long sentences and below-par grammar is a sure fire way to put you on the back foot with your application. Remember to check all your work, it really won’t matter what you have written if a recruiter cannot read it properly.

Make sure that you get others to check your work, use your careers services to see if your cover letter is acceptable and appears to be professional. It is very important that you proofread everything that is sent to employers.