“But I don’t HAVE to send a cover letter”. “The company have only asked for my CV”.
These are the types of responses we often receive from students when we mention cover letters.
In fact we’re regularly asked for our advice on CVs but many students don’t realise it can be the cover letter accompanying a CV that is the key to whether you get through to the next stage of the recruitment process!
Yes, UK employers often don’t ask for a cover letter and no, you don’t generally need one when you have completed an application form that has asked you about your interest in the company and how you are suited to the role. But if you’re only sending a CV, how will the employer assess from your application what your motivations are or how serious you are about the application? How will you “sell” yourself?
UK employers may not ask for a cover letter but without one you risk being rejected straight away.
So what is a cover letter in a nutshell? It is a way of personally introducing yourself to the recruiter, it gives context to your CV and it helps sell your application.
Sometimes employers will specifically ask for a cover letter, in which case it will need to be in the style of a formal letter attached to your email as a separate document. This should be no longer than a side of A4. If a cover letter isn’t asked for, you can use the main body of the email instead.
It helps to separate your letter into clear paragraphs:
- The opening paragraph should refer to the job you are applying for and where you saw it advertised.
- The closing paragraph should highlight your interest in being considered for the job and detail your availability – for the role and also in relation to the next stage of the process.
- You will need at least two further paragraphs in between. These should explain why you are interested in the company and the job (be specific – show you have done your research and explain your reasons clearly), plus highlight why you are the best candidate (e.g. showing you meet the requirements of the job by summarising your relevant skills and experience).
- Try to address it to the person who will be reading it e.g. “Dear Mr Thompson” rather than “Dear Sir or Madam” – you’re much more likely to receive a reply if you address it to the correctly named person.
- Always tailor it to the company you are applying to – companies won’t be interested in a generic letter that fails to show your genuine interest in their organisation.
- Don’t make vague, generic, flattering statements e.g. “I would be honoured to work for such a prestigious company with an excellent reputation.”
- Do your research and pick out aspects of the company and job that genuinely appeal to you – then make sure you explain why!
- Include examples to back up your claims.
- Keep your font consistent and the same as the font in your CV.
Check out the following links for further advice:
Birmingham City University – https://careersplus.bcu.ac.uk/resources/applications-cvs-covering-letters/covering-letters