The first thing a potential employer sees in your job application is the cover letter. This doesn't just support your CV – it's an opportunity for you to stand out from the crowd and persuade the recruiter to put you through to the next round.
Be wary of spending hours on perfecting your CV at the expense of your cover letter. If you need some inspiration on what to include and what format to use, here are our helpful guides – just remember not to copy them as exact templates.
1. Standard, conservative style
This is ideal for sectors such as business, law, accountancy and retail. For more creative sectors, a letter like this might be less appealing, and could work against you.
Dear Mr Black,
Please find enclosed my CV in application for the post advertised in the Guardian on 30 November.
The nature of my degree course has prepared me for this position. It involved a great deal of independent research, requiring initiative, self-motivation and a wide range of skills. For one course, [insert course], an understanding of the [insert sector] industry was essential. I found this subject very stimulating.
I am a fast and accurate writer, with a keen eye for detail and I should be very grateful for the opportunity to progress to market reporting. I am able to take on the responsibility of this position immediately, and have the enthusiasm and determination to ensure that I make a success of it.
Thank you for taking the time to consider this application and I look forward to hearing from you in the near future.
2. Standard speculative letter
This may vary according to the nature of the organisation and the industry you're applying to.
Dear Mr Brown,
I am writing to enquire if you have any vacancies in your company. I enclose my CV for your information.
As you can see, I have had extensive vacation work experience in office environments, the retail sector and service industries, giving me varied skills and the ability to work with many different types of people. I believe I could fit easily into your team.
I am a conscientious person who works hard and pays attention to detail. I'm flexible, quick to pick up new skills and eager to learn from others. I also have lots of ideas and enthusiasm. I'm keen to work for a company with a great reputation and high profile like [insert company name].
I have excellent references and would be delighted to discuss any possible vacancy with you at your convenience. In case you do not have any suitable openings at the moment, I would be grateful if you would keep my CV on file for any future possibilities.
3. Letter for creative jobs
We've used the example of a copywriter but you can adapt it for your profession. The aim of a creative letter is to be original and show you have imagination, but understand what the job entails. Balance is essential: don't be too wacky, or it will turn off the reader.
Dear Ms Green,
· Confused by commas?
· Puzzled by parenthesis?
· Stumped by spelling?
· Perturbed by punctuation?
· Annoyed at the apostrophe? (And alliteration?)
Well, you're not alone. It seems that fewer and fewer people can write. Unfortunately, there are still a lot of people who can read. So they'll spot a gaffe from a mile off. And that means it's a false economy, unless you're 100% sure of yourself, to write your own materials. (Or to let clients do it for themselves.)
To have materials properly copywritten is, when one considers the whole process of publishing materials and the impact that the client wishes to make, a minor expense. Sloppiness loses clients, loses customers.
There is an answer. Me. Firm quotes are free. You can see some of what I do on my multilingual website at [insert web address]. If you'd like, I can get some samples out to you within 24 hours. And, if you use me, you'll have some sort of guarantee that you can sleep soundly as those tens of thousands of copies are rolling off the presses.
Luck shouldn't come into it!
With kindest regards
Other helpful resources
•How to write a perfect CV and cover letter
•Applying for jobs without experience? How to build and sell your skills
•Five steps to the perfect graduate CV
•School-leavers and graduates: how to write your first CV
•How to write a personal statement for your CV
•CV templates to fit every stage of your career
Looking for a job? Browse Guardian Jobs or sign up to Guardian Careers for the latest job vacancies and career advice
What to Include
Your CV should always be accompanied by a covering letter, unless the employer tells you otherwise. It is a key part of your application. Your letter should demonstrate your suitability for the vacancy and highlight the most important parts of your CV.
Watch the Careers Service's online masterclass presentation ‘How to write an effective covering letter’.
To view the presentation with subtitles, click the CC button in the player below. You can also view a full screen version.
Ideally your letter should only be one side of A4. It should be typed unless a handwritten letter is specifically requested and you should use the same font style and size used in your CV.
Beginning and ending
Make sure that you write to the correct person – it's important to get their name and job title right. If a name is not given, try to find out who you should address your letter to by contacting the company or checking the website.
When addressing your letter, use title and last name only. If you can't find out the name of the person, use 'Dear Sir/Madam'.
Finish your letter in a polite and friendly way, saying when you would be available for interview. End on apositive note, eg 'I would welcome the opportunity to discuss at interview what I could bring to this role.'
To end your letter, write 'Yours sincerely' if you know the name of the person you're writing to, or 'Yours faithfully' if you don't know the name, followed by your signature.
Sign a posted letter by hand. If you're sending it electronically, try scanning your signature.
Briefly explain what you are doing now and why you are writing.
If the job or placement was advertised, include where and when you saw the advert. If you are applying speculatively, be as specific as you can about what you are looking for.
A strong, confident and positive opening statement makes a good first impression, eg 'I believe I have the relevant skills, knowledge and experience to make a real difference in this role and in your organisation.'
Summarise what you have to offer
Summarise the key selling points from your CV which demonstrate that you have what they are looking for. This should be a concise summary withspecific examples, rather than talking about generic skills and qualities in isolation. For example, 'I am a reliable and trustworthy person with good communication skills' doesn't demonstrate to the employer how you developed your skills.
Convey your enthusiasm for the job and what you can do for the company, rather than talking about yourself in a general way.
Give reasons why the organisation should consider you. What have you got to offer them? Talk about any relevant experience, knowledge and skills and how you could make a contribution.
Try not to repeat phrases from your CV. Make sure that your CV clearly provides evidence for statements that you make in the letter.
Target the employer
Each letter should be tailored to the particular organisation and role. Recruiters will not be impressed with a generic covering letter.
Explain why you want to work for this organisation, eg their ethos, product, location, or contact you have had with people who work there.
You should also show that you have researched the organisation and know what they do, but don't just repeat what is on their website.
Other relevant information
It may be relevant to include other information in your covering letter, eg sharing information about a disability or explaining the circumstances of disappointing academic grades. Come and talk to us if you have concerns about explaining these or other issues in your letter.
For advice on sharing information about a disability with an employer, see:
A speculative letter will contain the same information as one for an advertised post with some additions. Read on to find out what you should include.
Try to identify a contact name to address your letter to. Contact the company to ask who is responsible for recruitment, or for a key contact in the department or section you wish to work in.
Information to include
You should be as specific as you can about the type of work you’re looking for. Consider giving the employer a range of options, so if no vacancies are available you can possibly get involved another way.
You could ask about:
- permanent vacancies
- temporary or part-time work
- work experience/shadowing
- arranging a brief meeting or the opportunity to talk to a recent graduate
Follow up with a phone call
It’s useful to follow up a speculative application with a phone call a few days later to show you are proactive and motivated.
For more advice on speculative letters, see The Guardian Careers article 'Do speculative cover letters work?'.
We've created some examples of different types of covering letters to help you think about content, layout and how to demonstrate your skills.
We've written some example covering letters for graduate and part-time jobs:
The following links include advice about writing effective covering letters, with examples:
The Careers Service provides advice and resources to help you create your covering letter. There are also a range of useful websites that provide futher advice.
The Careers Service can provide feedback on covering letters at our drop-in sessions.
‘How to write your covering letter' workshop
Attend our careers workshop, ‘How to write your covering letter’. For dates and times, see our Events section.
CVs and Covering Letters workbook
For more advice on writing CVs and covering letters, see our CVs and Covering Letters workbook.
You can also pick up a free copy of the workbook at the Careers Service.
Tips for writing effective covering letters
The following links give useful advice on writing an effective covering letter: