Cover letters

A cover letter will often accompany your CV when you are applying for a work or study opportunity. So even if you spend lots of time perfecting your CV, your application can still be affected by the quality of your cover letter. It is therefore important that you take time to create a well-structured cover letter targeted to each and every opportunity you apply for. View some examples of cover letters on the Target Jobs website.

The purpose

  • To encourage an employer to read the accompanying CV or application form
  • To draw together relevant facts from your CV or application form and shape them to the needs of the employer; demonstrating your ability to do the job/course
  • If speculative: to explain why you are sending your CV

If you are asked to send a ‘letter of application’, you might treat this as an extended cover letter. The tips provided in these pages will also help you to construct this type of letter.

Preparation

  • Research the company or organisation using resources such as the company or organisation's website, recent news articles or their social media.
  • Thoroughly research the role/course you are applying for including the main duties and responsibilities of the opportunity are or what modules and projects are available throughout the course
  • Identify aspects of the role or course that are most important to you
  • The length of a cover letter should be about one side of A4, using a font of no smaller than 11. Using a matching font and style to your CV gives your application a coherent and professional look. If the employer is asking for a lot of information and you can’t fit it onto one side, don’t reduce the font size any smaller – it’s better to go over two sides in a readable font than squeeze your information onto one side
  • Occasionally you may be asked for a handwritten cover letter. As handwriting generally is larger than typed text, it is usually OK to go onto two pages

A top tip we can offer is to tailor your cover letter for each application. You can adapt information you cut and paste from previous applications, however be very careful that it is appropriate to the job you are applying for.

Planning

When planning, consider the following points:

  • What are your key strengths in relation to the opportunity?
  • What has motivated you to pursue this opportunity?
  • You may need to illustrate how your skills satisfy the requirements (e.g. Leadership, Team work, Communication) so think of some examples of where you will have demonstrated these (such as work experience, university experiences, volunteering, Leicester Award, Internships, interests, hobbies)
  • What differentiates this job and company to you from their competitors?

Writing your first draft

Make sure that your cover letter/statement has a clear structure, so that the employer can easily recognise what you are addressing. We suggest using a structure similar to this:

I.C.M.E Structure

I – Introduction: A brief opening to introduce yourself and outlining the position or opportunity you are applying for and where you saw it advertised.

C – Capability: One to two paragraphs that explains why you are suitable for the role. You should refer to the job/course description and demonstrate how you meet the requirements for the opportunity.

M – Motivation: One to two paragraphs that detail why you are interested in the company/institution and the position/study. Make sure you are specific and demonstrate that you have done your research.

E – Ending: A couple of lines that thank the reader for his/her time and state that you are looking forward to hearing from them. Refer back to the specific course or job requirements.

Use subheadings and bullet points to highlight key information and help your cover letter stand out by using direct, positive and appropriate language.

TOP TIP: Expressing things more positively can make the difference between a successful and an unsuccessful application. Below are a few examples:

  • “I am a good communicator” rather than “I feel that I am a good communicator”
  • “I have excellent communication skills” rather than “Some people have told me I am good at communicating”
  • “During this experience I successfully managed seven people” rather than “During this experience I had to manage seven people”

Proof-reading and amending

After all the time and effort you have spent developing your cover letter, it would be a shame to send it before you have proof-read and thoroughly checked it through. To make absolutely sure, get someone else to read it – the best of writers miss mistakes in their own work due to familiarity with the text.