Skip to content

Writing a cover letter

Your CV should be accompanied by a cover letter, which gives depth to the factual information on your CV.

It also provides an opportunity for you to express your interest in, motivation for and suitability for the job in question.

By demonstrating your career interests and highlighting your most relevant strengths and experiences, a well-written letter can help you make an excellent first impression.

Whether you're applying for a job or a placement, your letter is your first chance to show the employer that you haven't picked them at random, but that you really want this particular job and have the skills to do it.

Take a targeted approach

Targeting your cover letter will improve your chances of getting short-listed for interview. Most employers will read your cover letter before the CV – so it’s really important that you make a positive impression. But don’t just repeat facts from the company website – you need to relate your skills and experience to a specific aspect of the business.

Highlight and reinforce

Before you start writing, remind yourself of the employer’s requirements (use the advert, company website, job description and person specification) and consider how you can demonstrate them. Learn more about how to research an organisation and a role before submitting any documentation.

Your aim is to highlight and reinforce rather than repeat word for word the information already included on the CV. Your letter is another opportunity to market yourself – it should be persuasive, demonstrating your enthusiasm for the post.

What to include

Address your letter to a named person wherever possible – eg ‘Dear Mrs Jones’ rather than 'Dear Sir/Madam'. ‘Dear Jo’ or ‘Hi’ are not appropriate, neither is ‘Dear Jo Jones’. The company's human resources department should be able to provide a name and title (eg Mrs, Dr), as well as the job title.

You should also include:

In the first paragraph, outline briefly your current situation eg ‘I am currently a final year Law student at Cardiff University’. You will usually be writing in response to an advertised vacancy but you could also be taking a speculative approach.

If you're applying for an advertised job, you should state where you saw the advertisement and quote any reference numbers. If you are making a speculative application, be very clear about what type of role you are interested in.

Why do you want this type of work and why are you interested in this employer? In the second paragraph, demonstrate that you have done your research into the company and understand what the job or placement might involve.

This paragraph is incredibly important as it shows the employer that you are motivated enough to find out as much as you can about the role and organisation.

Generic approaches such as 'I am keen to work for a large graduate employer with an excellent reputation' won’t cut it at all. Include clear reasons why you are interested in the company and the job.

In the third paragraph, highlight relevant aspects of your skills, knowledge and experience to support your suitability for the role.

If the advertisement listed certain essential requirements, then draw attention to how you meet these. Cross-referring to your CV can be useful – eg ‘You will see from my CV that I …’

Your letter can also be used to explain gaps in your CV and is the most appropriate place to disclose relevant health or disability information. We recommend that you outline this sort of information in the fourth paragraph.

In your concluding paragraph, note any dates in the near future that you absolutely cannot make for an interview. Although many companies will have fixed the day in advance, some may interview on more than one day or be flexible for a very strong candidate.

End your letter on a positive note, rather than a groveling apology for taking the reader’s time.

Be clear and professional

Your cover letter should be clear, concise and business-like, but don’t try to be someone you’re not by using excessively long words – this usually sounds pompous and false. Type your letter unless told otherwise, and keep it one side of A4.

We suggest that you apply the 20 second rule – any paragraph that takes longer than 20 seconds to read is too long. Keep your sentences and your paragraphs short and snappy. And be sure to spellcheck and grammar check your letter.

Before you send it

Make sure you signed your letter and keep a copy for reference – and to help you with your interview preparation.

You could also bring your letter to one of our drop-in sessions so that a Careers Adviser can review it.

Find out more

If you need help crafting a CV and cover letter, you could attend one of our masterclasses at our office or, if you're still a student, at your School.

Alternatively, you could download our handy checklist or contact us:

Careers and Employability