March 28, 2014, by Beth Dawson

We’ve got it covered! Your covering letter dilemmas solved!

By Sarah Ainger, Employability Education Projects Officer, Careers and Employability Service

So you’ve found a great opportunity that you want to apply for and your CV is ready, but you find yourself staring at a blank sheet of paper when you come to write your covering letter. To help you write a stand-out covering letter, we’ve provided answers to your most frequently asked questions.

What should I include in my covering letter and how long should it be?

Ideally, it should be no longer than one A4 page. This length will ensure that it’s concise, so that a busy recruiter can read it in full. Your covering letter will be the first impression an employer will have of your written communication skills so content, relevance, structure and accurate spelling and grammar are essential for making a positive impression. Also, try to keep your language simple and straightforward.

Deciding what to put in a covering letter is the hardest part, some areas to start with include:

  • a brief introduction, stating who you are and why you’re writing, the more creative you can be with your introduction the better
  • a description of your interest in the role and the organisation. Use this section to demonstrate your knowledge of the organisation
  • a summary of your key strengths, skills and experience that will make you the ideal candidate for the role
  • an explanation of what you can offer the company
  • a strong ending to your letter that leaves an impression. You might want to include when you are available for an interview.

I’m worried about duplicating information in my covering letter that I’ve already put on my CV. Is it okay to repeat points?

You’ll need to use information from your CV to highlight your relevant skills, experience and strengths. Phrasing this information differently and putting it into the context of the role and organisation you’re applying for will prevent it sounding repetitive.

For example, if you have two periods of work experience in public relations and have had three less relevant jobs, you would highlight the PR experience in your covering letter for a PR job, relating it to the specific role you’re applying for.

There may be skills that you’ve mentioned in your CV which will be relevant to the role you’re applying for. Reiterate these skills in your covering letter to show you understand what the employer is looking for and how you would meet the requirements of the role.

I’ve been part of a sports team and a member of a society committee, should I include this in my covering letter?

Ask yourself: is it relevant? Does that experience allow you to showcase the skills that the employer is looking for? Has it given you experience which will benefit you in the role you’re applying for?

Being a member of a society committee is an excellent way to develop teamwork, organisation and communication skills, to name a few. However, you only have a page to work with, decide what is your most relevant experience for the role and prioritise it.

I’ve sent off my covering letter and CV to lots of businesses, what could be the reason I’m not hearing back?

There could be several reasons for this. Some common ones are that:

  • You’re sending off a generic covering letter for every job. Unless the role and company are virtually identical you should tailor each letter to the organisation and role. This will help you focus on the skills and experience the employer is looking for.
  • You’re not addressing a named person. An employer can easily spot a generic covering letter and won’t be impressed. Call the company and find out who to address in to, this personal touch will show you’ve done your research.
  • You haven’t included enough information about yourself, your experience and what you have to offer the employer. A common mistake is talking about what the employer can do for you rather than the other way round.

Finally, think about the letter from an employers point of view. What impression do you think they would get about you from the letter? Are you giving too much information or too little?

If you want further CV and covering letter advice, visit our making applications webpages. You can also, book an appointment with a member of our team on My Career where we can review your CV and covering letter and advise you on how to impress employers. 

Posted in Applying For JobsPostgraduate Taught Students