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The covering letter is the first thing that your recruiter sees. I cannot over-emphasise its importance. It has to be impressive. It has to be professional. You must show the person who opens this letter that you care about them and their organisation. Here are some tips how you can do it, adapted from, as well as a sample covering letter.

Writing a Covering Letter is not as easy as it seems

1. Presentation

If your covering letter starts with ‘Dear Sir or Madam’, think again. People like to be approached personally – so take time to find out who will read your application. If the advert doesn’t say it, ring the company and ask who to send the letter to.

Don’t forget to put the job title at the top of the letter and reference number where applicable.

Avoid overly long paragraphs, type the letter neatly, always spell-check and never exceed one page.

Don’t forget about formatting – a simple font, 12 points (11 is also applicable), one-inch margins, justified.

2. Style and Grammar

Do not start with ‘I am writing’. It used to be very popular, but now the recruiters can’t see this phrase anymore. Just write who you are and what your career ambitions are – this is much more useful!

Also, avoid starting each sentence with ‘I’ or ‘my’. You need to focus on the company rather than yourself (see Point 5: Structure).

3. Personalise

The reader must know immediately that you have not sent this letter to another employer. Tailor your letters and decide how casual or formal you should make your language. Generalised letters impress no-one. Adjust each letter for the job you’re applying for. Start with the name of the person – take time to research who will read your CV.

4. Content

Look at the terminology the employer has used in the ad or written job description or in a conversation and incorporate this into your letter. Research the company’s mission statement, goals and needs and match them to your experience and abilities. Show them you are the perfect person.

5. Structure

In your opening paragraph, say who you are (student, marketer, biologist, etc.), identify the position for which you are applying and indicate how you heard about the position. Write about yourself – your education, your qualifications, your aspirations. Explain what interests you about the job.

Next, write why the organisation interest you. Be flattering. Show that you’ve researched the organisation and care about what they’re doing. Demonstrate interest, knowledge and appreciation.

You don't have the job yet, but that's what the attitude of your covering letter should be

Your goal in the third paragraph is to show how you can be useful to this particular organisation. Describe what strengths you have to offer by showing the relationship between your skills and experience and the vacancy. You can also describe your previous achievements and how they relate to the vacancy, and identify three reasons why you should be called to interview.

End the letter by stating what your next steps will be (See Point 10: Closing). Refer the reader to your enclosed CV for additional information.

6. Emphasise

Find relevant achievements in your work history and quote one or two succinctly and colourfully. It’s fine if you have also included them in your CV – your letter should expand on your CV and complement your career summary. To some extent, your covering letter should mirror your CV, but not copy it word-for word. Both should have some hidden elements so that they complete one another.

7. Detail

You will have researched the company as part of your preparation, so when explaining why you are interested in the organisation or position, avoid general statements like ‘I am impressed with your products and growth’. Write specifically about which products, what growth and why you are impressed. Your covering letter, just like your CV, should be S.M.A.R.T.

8. Why you?

Why should we hire YOU? Answer that question in your covering letter!

Answer the question of ‘why you?’ What makes you worth considering? Emphasise your positive assets, such as education or skills, accomplishments and personal qualities in relation to the employer’s needs. Emphasise your strengths and experience

9. Timing

If there’s a closing date, time your posting so that it arrives a few days after the main ‘rush’ that occurs within 4-7 days of the advertisement’s publication (but not after the closing date!). Alternatively, you may prefer to be the first to respond.

10. Closing

End the letter with a specific statement of what your next step will be. If you plan to follow up with a telephone call, say so. If you plan to wait for the employer’s response, say so as well. Conclude by saying you look forward to discussing your career with the advertiser


A Sample Covering Letter

This is a sample covering letter from a student who is applying for a work placement in a science research company. It is partially based on my own covering letter which got me a great placement in the Science and Technology Facilities Council.

Dear Ms Black,

Ref: COMM2009-01 Communications Officer

I am a Second Year student, studying English and Journalism at Anytown University, due to graduate in 2012. At the moment, I am seeking a placement in Public Relations, starting June/July 2009, with a view to a long-term career in this field. The placement position in your company really interests me as it is reflects to a very large extent both my professional and personal interests.

Comment: the candidate introduces himself and talks about his goals and aspirations. He states his career goals and expresses interest in working for the company.

Having undertaken research on ABC Ltd., I am aware that your organisation is one of the leaders in the science sector, promoting and supporting pioneering research projects in numerous fields. I was impressed, having found out how powerful the impact of your big your team’s work is on the British economy and internal affairs. Moreover, it was really exciting to learn that you organise work experience for 14-16 year-old pupils. Being familiar with the present situation in the UK educational sector, I am aware of science not being a popular area of study among prospective students. This is a great concern for our society, as, regardless of intensive growth of the service sector, scientific research is the engine that motivates progress and drives humanity forward. Despite the fact that my studies are not science-related, I am enthusiastic about making change and I believe that with my skills I would be able to make science more appealing to the young people.

Comment: the candidate demonstrates his awareness of the company. Having done his homework, he knows what the company is doing and shows his appreciation of  the company’s activities. 

As you can see from my CV, I have professional interest and considerable experience in representation and communications. My employment history reveals my dedication and striving to maximise efficiency. I have been actively engaged in liaising with external stakeholders of the companies that I had worked for, as well as pro-active establishment of a positive image. In addition, one of the research topics that really interests me is Global Warming and research on sustainability. I have written articles about it for the Anytown University Gazette, and am currently organising a conference on academic research on green technologies. I possess the skills necessary for this position, being a critical researcher, having excellent command of both written and spoken English, as well as being confident, and used to working under pressure and to the deadline.

Comment: In this paragraph, the candidate is talking about himself and outlining his experience.

I believe that this placement would provide me with an excellent opportunity of deepening and broadening my knowledge of PR, fulfilling my creative and academic potential. The training I would receive would enhance my professional skills required for a career in this field. I would be available for an interview at your convenience and am looking forward to hearing from you.

Comment: The candidate outlines his own expectations towards the placement, linking it t his career goals. He ends the letter encouraging the employer to contact him.

Yours sincerely,

Name Surname

Enc. CV


This article is a chapter from Vlad Mackevic’s new book ‘How to Write a CV with Little or No Work Experience. A guidebook for students and recent graduates’. You can download this book for FREE by entering your email in the form below!

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