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Planning a better future
Planning a better future

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7 The covering letter

Your covering letter is your opportunity to market yourself. It introduces your application and draws attention to the main factors that make you suitable for the job. It will usually be read first, so make sure that the reader will want to find out more about you.

It should enhance your application, not repeat what’s on the application form or CV. Always include a covering letter unless the employer specifically tells you not to. Application forms often allow you reasonable scope to sell yourself and may need only a brief covering letter. A CV will usually require more of an introduction.

Applying for a job in a vacancy list or answering an advertisement

Mention the job title (including any reference number) and say where and when you saw the vacancy. Highlight your strongest selling points, such as a relevant degree, appropriate qualification and related experience. Stress how you think the organisation can benefit from employing you. Add some other detail to reinforce your suitability, without duplicating what’s on the application form.

Applying speculatively

In a speculative approach, you have to present your case in a letter, usually accompanied by your CV. State clearly what kind of work you’re seeking, your qualifications and what you have to offer. You’re trying to find out whether there are any vacancies, or whether vacancies will arise in the near future. At the same time you must leave the impression that you’re someone it’s useful for the employer to know about.

If there’s a vacancy, this will – if done well – translate into being someone the employer ought to see. So make clear who you are, where you are and what you’re studying, then highlight the relevant points in the CV such as work experience, interests and activities. Say why you want to work for that particular organisation, and when you would be able to start. Do not waste your time, or an organisation’s, by submitting speculative applications if they are specifically prohibited.

Drafting your letter

  • Type or word-process your letter (although, very occasionally, an employer will ask for a handwritten letter).
  • If you are posting your application, use plain A4 paper of good quality.
  • Keep it brief – usually not more than one side of A4.
  • Put your name, address, telephone number and date at the top right-hand corner and, on the left-hand side, the name, job title and organisation of the person you’re writing to.
  • Address your letter to an individual person by name and job title. Switchboard staff can be very helpful in supplying this information if it isn’t otherwise available.
  • When writing to a named individual, end ‘Yours sincerely’. If you do have to resort to ‘Dear Sir or Madam’, end ‘Yours faithfully’.
  • Although you should be business-like, steer clear of stilted expressions like ‘I beg to remain’.
  • Make sure your spelling and grammar are correct, and that you’ve expressed yourself clearly.
  • Ask someone else to read it – don’t rely on your computer’s spelling check, especially as it may be based on US spelling.
  • Print your name clearly below your signature.
  • You can use your covering letter to give additional information such as reasons for an unusual change in career, or to highlight aspects of your CV that you feel are particularly important.
  • If there are any special circumstances not covered in the application form or CV, such as a disability and how you overcome potential difficulties, mention them in the letter.
  • Keep a copy of your letter. If you haven’t received an acknowledgement within two or three weeks, send a brief follow-up letter or telephone to make sure that it’s been received.

You've now completed Section 7 - well done! We hope that you have found your study useful and are motivated to carry on with the course. Remember, if you pass the quiz at the end of each block you will be able to download a badge as evidence of your learning and a statement of participation that recognises your completion of the whole course.