Consider your covering letter as the icing on the cake that is your application. It creates a first impression about you and should draw attention to the talents you would bring to the job. It also showcases your ability to write well and to do so persuasively. It should be very concise, one side of A4 at the most. It should complement rather than duplicate your CV. A good, well-tailored cover letter takes a considerable amount of time to write…
Get a name to write to
If there is no name to address the letter to in the job advert, phone to get one. It is generally a good idea to phone in advance to clarify any queries you may have and make yourself known as an interested candidate.
Clearly state what position you are applying for, who you are and why you are interested.
Convince the reader you want the job
What a lot of job seekers don’t realise is that those looking to fill a position may have a valid fear that their ideal candidate will turn down the job or not stick at it for very long. Convince them you really are interested and how it fits in with your (career) plans.
Convince the reader that you could do the job
Match the skills and experience you have with what they are looking for. Give examples of qualities they ask for and how you have coped with similar responsibilities in the past. Refer specifically to skills and experience listed on your CV. Make sure you tailor your language: use the phrases they use wherever possible.
Let your personality shine through
Write with enthusiasm and be positive.
Throughout, show that you have researched the position and the employer. This is called competitive intelligence. Quotes from their (and their competitors’) website or other information you may have will show you have done your homework.
Understand your values, understand their values
A more subtle use of competitive intelligence is to get a good understanding of a company’s values and show how yours match. Having shared values creates a human connection. The same is true for language.
End with a confident conclusion
Summarise what you offer and how that fits perfectly with what they are looking for. Say you are looking forward to the interview to explore the fit. If you are writing a speculative application rather than in response to a job advert, indicate that you will call in a specific number of days (and do so).
The first thing a potential employer sees in your job application is the cover letter. This doesn't just support your CV – it's an opportunity for you to stand out from the crowd and persuade the recruiter to put you through to the next round.
Be wary of spending hours on perfecting your CV at the expense of your cover letter. If you need some inspiration on what to include and what format to use, here are our helpful guides – just remember not to copy them as exact templates.
1. Standard, conservative style
This is ideal for sectors such as business, law, accountancy and retail. For more creative sectors, a letter like this might be less appealing, and could work against you.
Dear Mr Black,
Please find enclosed my CV in application for the post advertised in the Guardian on 30 November.
The nature of my degree course has prepared me for this position. It involved a great deal of independent research, requiring initiative, self-motivation and a wide range of skills. For one course, [insert course], an understanding of the [insert sector] industry was essential. I found this subject very stimulating.
I am a fast and accurate writer, with a keen eye for detail and I should be very grateful for the opportunity to progress to market reporting. I am able to take on the responsibility of this position immediately, and have the enthusiasm and determination to ensure that I make a success of it.
Thank you for taking the time to consider this application and I look forward to hearing from you in the near future.
2. Standard speculative letter
This may vary according to the nature of the organisation and the industry you're applying to.
Dear Mr Brown,
I am writing to enquire if you have any vacancies in your company. I enclose my CV for your information.
As you can see, I have had extensive vacation work experience in office environments, the retail sector and service industries, giving me varied skills and the ability to work with many different types of people. I believe I could fit easily into your team.
I am a conscientious person who works hard and pays attention to detail. I'm flexible, quick to pick up new skills and eager to learn from others. I also have lots of ideas and enthusiasm. I'm keen to work for a company with a great reputation and high profile like [insert company name].
I have excellent references and would be delighted to discuss any possible vacancy with you at your convenience. In case you do not have any suitable openings at the moment, I would be grateful if you would keep my CV on file for any future possibilities.
3. Letter for creative jobs
We've used the example of a copywriter but you can adapt it for your profession. The aim of a creative letter is to be original and show you have imagination, but understand what the job entails. Balance is essential: don't be too wacky, or it will turn off the reader.
Dear Ms Green,
· Confused by commas?
· Puzzled by parenthesis?
· Stumped by spelling?
· Perturbed by punctuation?
· Annoyed at the apostrophe? (And alliteration?)
Well, you're not alone. It seems that fewer and fewer people can write. Unfortunately, there are still a lot of people who can read. So they'll spot a gaffe from a mile off. And that means it's a false economy, unless you're 100% sure of yourself, to write your own materials. (Or to let clients do it for themselves.)
To have materials properly copywritten is, when one considers the whole process of publishing materials and the impact that the client wishes to make, a minor expense. Sloppiness loses clients, loses customers.
There is an answer. Me. Firm quotes are free. You can see some of what I do on my multilingual website at [insert web address]. If you'd like, I can get some samples out to you within 24 hours. And, if you use me, you'll have some sort of guarantee that you can sleep soundly as those tens of thousands of copies are rolling off the presses.
Luck shouldn't come into it!
With kindest regards
Other helpful resources
•How to write a perfect CV and cover letter
•Applying for jobs without experience? How to build and sell your skills
•Five steps to the perfect graduate CV
•School-leavers and graduates: how to write your first CV
•How to write a personal statement for your CV
•CV templates to fit every stage of your career
Looking for a job? Browse Guardian Jobs or sign up to Guardian Careers for the latest job vacancies and career advice