Feeling uncertain about the different elements of a cover letter? Don’t be. Check out our video for writing a cover letter with no experience, which outlines clear steps you can follow along with as you make your own:
As the video says, your cover letter needs to include the right information if you want to stand out and convince a UK employer to call you in for an interview.
But what’s ‘the right information’?
There are 7 key elements you should include in your cover letter:
1. Your name and contact information
You should put your name, job title, and contact information at the top of your cover letter so the employer immediately knows who you are and how to reach you.
Write your name at the very top of your letter in a well-designed cover letter header, using a large font size (e.g., 30 pt) to draw attention to your application.
Some cover letter templates also let you add coloured backgrounds or text to make the header even bolder.
After your name, list your:
- phone number
- professional email address (email@example.com as opposed to one like firstname.lastname@example.org that makes you appear unprofessional)
- home address (but you can just list your town or leave this off completely if you want to protect your privacy)
- relevant online profiles (e.g., LinkedIn, a professional blog, or portfolio)
Here’s an example of what should be in a cover letter header:
2. A polite greeting
Your cover letter should include a polite greeting (also known as a salutation).
The standard greeting format in the UK is ‘Dear Mr/Ms/Mx [Contact Person’s Surname],’.
Starting with a named greeting shows you’ve researched the job and written your cover letter specifically for the employer.
If the job description doesn’t name a contact person, there are a few things you can do to find out who to address your cover letter to:
- Google the initials in the contact email and the company name (e.g. search ‘email@example.com’ as ‘h matheson’ and ‘vortek’)
- See if the company’s About Us page lists employee names and job titles
- Access the company’s profile on LinkedIn, then search for the contact person’s job title or department under the People tab in the profile header
- Call the employer on the phone, introduce yourself as an applicant for the role, and ask for the contact person’s name
If you’re still unable to get the contact person’s name, use their position title or address the department you’re applying to instead.
3. A compelling opening paragraph
Your opening paragraph should state the open role and where you found it, summarise your experience, and outline your reasons for applying.
Your opening paragraph needs to get the employer’s interest so they’ll give your cover letter their full attention.
Here are several ideas for starting a cover letter in a interesting and memorable way:
- show your passion for the type of work you’d be doing
- emphasise your years of experience
- highlight a technical skill that you know the employer values
- describe a top achievement with a specific example and hard numbers
- drop the name of a company reference (if you have their permission)
4. Your relevant strengths
A common mistake in cover letter writing is repeating the information on your CV. Doing so doesn’t add any value to your job application. After all, the employer will also be looking at your CV.
So instead of copying your CV, expand on it by explaining in the body of your cover letter how your skills and experience will help the employer.
Describe your essential skills and relate them to the job responsibilities and other company needs to show why hiring you would be a good investment for the employer.
And don’t forget to include any information that sets you apart from other candidates.
For example, if you’re a fresh graduate, include relevant coursework or your degree classification (if it’s impressive like a 1st or a 2:1).
5. Industry keywords
Employers often skim cover letters to determine which applicants to shortlist for a closer look. So put relevant industry keywords throughout your letter to ensure they see what they’re looking for. Here’s how to find the best keywords:
- Check the job description for key information (e.g., qualifications, specific technical skills, and core traits)
- Read job descriptions for similar positions
- Research the company’s website, social media accounts, and other media for the values and knowledge they’re looking for in new hires
- Look through industry reports and publications (e.g., Marketing Week) to identify high-demand skills
Here’s an example of a customer service job description with keywords underlined:
And here’s an example of an opening paragraph of a cover letter for the above job that includes relevant keywords:
6. A final call to action
Once you’ve clearly outlined your key skills and relevant experience for the employer, it’s time to move your application forward.
Encourage the employer to contact you for a job interview, by including an enthusiastic call to action (CTA) in your cover letter ending.
- Words that convey your enthusiasm for the position (e.g., ‘thrilled’, ‘delighted’)
- The same email address and phone number you used in your cover letter header so the reviewer doesn’t have to look for them
- A specific time employers can reach you
- A closing that encourages the employer to take action (e.g., ‘I look forward to hearing from you)
Here’s an example of a great cover letter CTA:
7. A customary sign-off
Leave a great final impression by signing off with a phrase that shows your professionalism. The standard sign-off for a well-written cover letter is:
- ‘Yours sincerely,’ if you addressed the contact person by name in your greeting
- ‘Yours faithfully,’ if you addressed a generic job title or department name
When you send your cover letter by email, leave a blank line after your sign-off, and then type your name.
What not to include in your cover letter
Including irrelevant or unprofessional information in your cover letter can hurt your chances of getting the job you want.
Here are 4 things you should not include in your cover letter:
1. Irrelevant personal information
When you build your cover letter, leave out details such as your marital status, nationality, ethnicity, religion, or political beliefs.
Employers won’t want to consider a job application that could make them liable to being accused of employment discrimination.
2. Salary expectations
Your cover letter isn’t the place to discuss salary expectations.
As you’re making initial contact with the employer, they won’t have decided whether to offer you the job yet — even if you also sent in a great CV.
Talking about money this early in the application process risks making you look like you just want the job for a pay cheque.
Also, your salary expectations could disqualify you if they’re too high, or make you seem inexperienced if they’re too low.
So leave salary discussions until the job interview at the earliest. The employer might ask what your salary expectations are in the job interview anyway.
3. Negative comments about your previous employers
Complaining or using unprofessional language to describe past or current employers is a definite no-no (even if you hate the job you do).
Being negative about previous bosses, responsibilities, or coworkers will make you seem difficult to work with and undermine your achievements. The employer won’t hire someone they think is going to cause problems for their team.
A cliché is a phrase that’s overused in cover letters (e.g., ‘team player’ or ‘self starter’).
It’s easy to rely on clichés when writing because we hear them so frequently, but they almost never add valuable information. Worse, they can make your cover letter wordy and forgettable.
So swap out any clichés in your cover letter with specific examples or simple, descriptive language to make it employer-friendly.
Frequently asked questions about what to include in a cover letter
Here are answers to 3 more questions about what to put in a cover letter:
- Should I date my cover letter?
- How do I show enthusiasm in my cover letter?
- How do I prove I’m a fit for the company?
1. Should I date my cover letter?
You don’t need to write the date on your cover letter if you submit it online because your document will automatically be time stamped.
However, if you’re submitting a printed cover letter, format the date as you would on any formal business letter:
Right-align the date and write it in the dd/mm/yyyy format (for example, 24 March 2023 or 24/03/2023).
2. How do I show enthusiasm in my cover letter?
One of the best ways to show enthusiasm in your cover letter is to emphasise your knowledge of the company.
Before writing your cover letter, familiarise yourself with the company by checking its:
- official website and internal media
- social media profiles
- external press or blog content
Use your research to show how your career goals align with the company’s principles in your cover letter. Or explain how your skill set could build on some of the company’s wins or solve its challenges.
Here’s an example of how to use your research results to impress the employer:
The feeding programme [Company Name] provides for the homeless people in our community is inspiring. I want to work with an organisation dedicated to giving back to the community, and your mission perfectly matches my goal.
3. How do I prove I’m a good fit for the company?
One of the most effective ways to make an employer think you’re a good fit for their company is to show your willingness to work for them long term in your cover letter.
Simply match your skills and qualifications to the job requirements, and indicate that you’re seeking a role that offers longevity.
Here’s an example of how to prove that you’re a long-term fit for the role in your cover letter:
I’m excited about the innovations your company has shown in your projects recently. I’ve been looking to work long-term for a dynamic organisation that provides creative solutions, and your company fits that description. Your [Position Name] role is a perfect fit for my skills and experience and would give me the chance to grow professionally while contributing to your growth.
More cover letter resources
Here are more resources to help you determine what should be in a cover letter for a UK job: