The “Why?” and “How?” of cover letters

Written by Laura Harmsworth

Caversham CV Writing

When you’re applying for a role, you should write a cover letter whether it’s asked for or not.

The purpose of the letter is to:

  • Introduce you to an organisation, explain your motivation for applying to the role and company, and highlight your key skills.
  • Illustrate your level of written communication skills.

You need to sell yourself in a succinct manner and grab the reader’s attention so they want to look at your CV.

Tailor your letter to each application, just as you do with your CV

The recruiting manager wants someone who is genuinely interested in the company and the role, so don’t churn out the same letter for each application.

Spend time researching the company.

Match your skills and experience to those being sought by the company.

Keep your letter to one page

Too brief and it shows a lack of interest/effort; too long and it won’t get read. 

Spend time on presentation and format.

  • Create a document similar to personalised stationery e.g., name/address as header; phone/email details as footer.
  • Ensure the letter is well spaced and use a font such as Arial, Times New Roman or Calibri – matched to what you have used for your CV
  • Include the date, contact name and address of where you’re applying to. If the name of the recruiter is not on the job ad or your letter is speculative, try to find out the name of the appropriate person to send your letter and CV to. If you can’t find the name, remember to end your letter with Yours faithfully rather than Yours sincerely.
  • Write in a succinct manner, don’t copy and paste sections of your CV into the letter.

Don’t be boring or desperate!

A cover letter gives you more freedom to show more of your personality than a CV – making your letter stand out from the crowd is a good thing, but don’t go over the top.

Don’t be overly friendly, keep it professional and ensure you sound enthusiastic, without begging for a role e.g. I really need this role because…. Your application is not about what you want, but how you can solve a problem for the employer. Focus on the key skills and experience you have that they are looking for, ensuring you refer to the job ad/description and person specification.

You can sound enthusiastic without going overboard e.g. “I’m a big fan of xxx company, having seen your success in introducing xxx product into the market.”

Email or letter?

Either is acceptable and if not stated in the job advert, it’s your choice. You can copy your letter into the body of the email and attach the CV / attach CV and letter to an email / copy your letter into an email and attach both documents.

Whichever option you choose, keep it professional – do not start out with “Hi”, use text speak or abbreviations, or add emojis 😊.

If emailing, rather than uploading the documents to a website for example, ensure your email is appropriate (not something like ilovetodance@hotmail.com), professional and not your current work address– you could set up an email purely for your job search.

Always check out the company prior to sending your CV with personal details on – keep ID fraud in mind.

Spelling and grammar

As with your CV, don’t rely on spellcheck. Proofread, proofread again after a night’s sleep, ask a few people to read it, then read it again. Using Grammarly and Word’s “Read Aloud” function are also worth doing.

You don’t want to end up saying you are seeking a party-time role or are currently a senior manger.

Spending time on your letter is as important as the time you spend writing your CV.

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