What is a cover letter?
A cover letter, sometimes called a letter of application, job application letter, or covering letter, is a letter you write when applying for a specific job. This professional document accompanies your well-written CV when you send an application to an employer, and provides context as to why you’re the right candidate for their company or firm.
Writing a cover letter each time you apply for a position earns you more interviews, saving you time. Although it takes some effort to write your first cover letter, afterwards you can quickly change your letter so that it targets different positions and companies.
To save time setting up your first cover letter, it’s a good idea to use a pre-formatted cover letter template that you can start filling in immediately.
Your cover letter’s primary purpose is to link the CV skills and achievements you’ve mentioned with the company’s needs. Let’s say you’re applying for a barista role, and read that the employer uses a certain coffee bean supplier. You could then use your cover letter to let the employer know you’ve got experience using those beans to make coffee.
What to include in a cover letter in 2021
The basic format of a cover letter includes the following:
- A cover letter header
- Your contact information (and the recipient’s)
- Three to four body paragraphs outlining your experience, achievements, and skills — tailored to the job posting
- A sign off and your name (and signature if printed out)
Here’s what a completed cover letter looks like:
How to write a good cover letter
Follow these simple steps to write an effective cover letter.
1. Begin by adding your contact details to the header
The top of your cover letter is where the person reading your letter will look first, so place your contact details in this area using an eye-catching cover letter header.
Must-have contact details include your:
- Name: First and last name (middle name optional).
- Phone number: Mobile is best, and absolutely don’t use your work number!
- Email address: Something with your name in it is professional and makes your application easier for employers to find.
You can also add links to relevant web pages, such as your LinkedIn profile or your online profile (for graphic artists) or blog (for writers).
Here’s what an effective cover letter header should look like:
There’s no need to add your postal address to your cover letter in 2021 because employers get in touch by email or phone.
If you want to add your address (perhaps to show you’re local), you can either:
- place it in your cover letter header as illustrated above
- put it underneath your header, aligned to the right like this:
2. Address Your Cover Letter Properly
Underneath your header, right-align the date and then switch to left alignment for the employer’s address.
Add the contact’s person’s name (if you have it), as well as the company’s name and address — exactly what you’d put on an envelope if you were sending out a printed-off job application by post.
Here’s what a properly addressed cover letter should look like:
3. Find out the contact person’s name and add it to your greeting
A cover letter starts with the standard cover letter greeting:
Dear Mr/Ms/Mx [Contact Person’s Surname],
To show whoever’s advertising the role that you’ve written a tailored cover letter and aren’t simply mass-mailing it, add the contact person’s surname to your cover letter greeting.
To find out their name, look at the job advert. If you’re lucky, it will say something like ‘Contact Person: Ms Rachel Evans’. In that case, you can simply begin your cover letter like this:
Dear Ms Evans,
If you can’t find a contact person’s name in the job advert, you may need to do a little research. You can:
- Check the company’s website to see who’s the department head for the role
- Ring the company and tell whoever picks up that you need a name to address your cover letter to. You might say ‘I’m terribly sorry to bother you but I was writing my cover letter for the [Role] position, and was wondering who the contact person is to address it to’.
If all else fails, you can address your cover letter using a position title:
Dear Sales Director,
No idea who to label your cover letter for? Use ‘To Whom It May Concern,’. It’s not perfect, but it does the job.
4. Begin with a direct, personalised opening paragraph
Starting a cover letter can seem rather intimidating, but it’s straightforward.
A basic cover letter introduction should include the following points:
- the job title
- where you saw the job advert
- the fact you’re applying for it
Strategy 1: express your interest in the role
That’s all there is to it! As long as you have these elements, the reader will want to continue reading your cover letter.
If you want to really grab the employer’s attention, though, we suggest using one of these strategies:
Strategy 2: explain your passion for the job
Strategy 3: emphasise a previous achievement
Strategy 4: highlight your love for the company
5. Describe your achievements in your body paragraphs
Once you’re finished with your introductory paragraph, it’s on to the body of your cover letter.
Tailor your cover letter to the job advert
The key to writing a good cover letter is remembering to tailor every sentence to the job opening.
To tailor your cover letter to the position, first read through the job advert. Here’s an example:
Note that the job advert says they’re looking for someone who can share their knowledge, expertise, and attention to detail with others, so that’s definitely something you should work into your cover letter.
For example, you might say:
By showing you’ve helped show new hires how to adapt to the workplace, you give this employer the reassurance that you can handle the responsibilities they outline in the job advert.
Add hard numbers to your achievements
Notice how we included a number in this bullet point? Adding hard numbers to your CV gives employers more context about your skills and achievements, so find ways to fit them into your cover letter when possible
For example, if you’re applying for a branch manager job at Boots, you can say that you increased sales at your current job at Superdrug by 17% by creating more attractive product displays.
Here’s how that would look:
Here are some more examples for different jobs:
Customer Service Representative
Writing a cover letter without work experience
If you’ve recently left school or graduated from university, you might not have many work-related achievements to add to your cover letter. Don’t worry, though; there’s plenty to talk about.
If you’re a university graduate, you can describe the skills you picked up and explain how they apply to the job you’re applying for. You can think about:
- How well you managed your workload
- What skills you picked up in any societies you joined
- Your effectiveness at independent learning, especially for courses with few contact hours
And of course, if you achieved first-class honours or a good upper-second class honours, mention it! These academic successes improve your application in the eyes of employers because they show that you’re diligent and intelligent.
Here are a couple of cover letter body-paragraph examples, one from a candidate who got stuck into university societies, and one from somebody who preferred to focus on their academic achievements.
University student — society member
University student — academic achiever
Here’s what a school leaver might write:
6. Finish your cover letter with an interview request
In any business letter, you use the final paragraph to sum up your arguments and make a request. A cover letter is no different.
Start by thanking the reader for taking the time to read your letter — as you learnt in primary school, you’ve got to mind your P’s and Q’s. Then politely request an interview, adding your availability so that you don’t have to turn down the interviewer if they offer you an interview when you’re not free.
Next, restate your phone number and email address just to make it that little bit easier for the interviewer to get in touch with you. Make sure the phone number and email address match the ones you included in your CV and cover letter headers, and watch out for typos!
Here’s what a correctly formatted cover letter final paragraph looks like:
7. Use the right sign-off
A sign-off (also known as a valedictorian) is the little phrase you stick before your name to politely end a letter. The rules for sign-offs for a cover letter are simple:
- If you addressed the reader by name (for example, ‘Dear Ms Stephanopolous,’), then you should end with ‘Yours sincerely,’.
- If you used a job title (‘Dear Sales Manager,’) or generic greeting (‘Dear Sir/Madam,’), then it needs to end with ‘Yours faithfully,’.
There’s no real reason for this distinction, but applying proper letter writing etiquette when ending your cover letter shows the reader that you’re aware of how to write properly.
8. Sign your name
Last, sign your name at the end of your cover letter. If you’re emailing your cover letter, simply add a line after your sign-off and then type your name.
If you’re printing off your cover letter, leave 3–4 lines between your sign-off and typed-out name, and then when you print it off, sign your name in the gap with a pen.
Cover Letter Example and Template to Copy and Paste
55 Road Name
07444 444 444
30 October 2021
Contact Person’s Name
55 Street Name
07555 555 555
Dear [Mr/Mrs/Ms][Contact Person’s Name],
I’m a professional driver with 4+ years’ experience delivering food in the Greater London area. Familiarity with your delivery area and a spotless driving record make me an ideal candidate for [Company Name]’s open Delivery Driver position.
At my last job, I was known for quickly planning efficient routes for delivering multiple orders, and I was often praised by my managers for the customer service skills I exhibited on the phone, behind the till, and at customers’ doors. Here are some of my accomplishments that prove I can make an immediate impact as a member of your team:
- Haven’t received a lateness complaint in 3+ years
- Compiled a 98% customer satisfaction rating on after-order surveys
- Placed first in a side-dish upselling contest, selling 50 sides in one month
- Trained as a pizza maker, achieving an average 45-second prep time
The job description posted on your website says you’re seeking a friendly driver who’s comfortable handling diverse tasks in the restaurant as well. I believe the above qualifications make me the person you’re looking for.
Please reach me at 07444 555 555 or [email protected] to schedule an interview. I look forward to hearing from you soon.