Covering Letter Tips for Students and Recent Graduates

It is generally the case that when you are applying for a job with a CV you should include an accompanying covering letter.

How long should the letter be?
It is important to keep things clear, brief and to the point. Our general rule of thumb would be to limit your letter to five or six paragraphs and aim for no more than one side of A4.

The only exception may be where the selector has asked you to provide a more detailed breakdown of your suitability for the job within your letter in which case you may well need to extend your letter, you should still ensure your style remains clear and concise.

How should I introduce the letter?
The letter should be written formally and, if possible, you should address the letter to a named person. Do make sure the tone is respectful and formal. Introducing the letter Dear Ms. Williams is fine, to begin your letter Hi Karen would be considered inappropriate for what is a business letter. When addressing your letter to a named person you should always sign off with ‘Yours sincerely’.

There will be occasions where you cannot address the letter to a named person in which case Dear Sir or Madam is a sensible way of introducing the letter. When addressing the reader in this way always sign off with ‘Yours faithfully’.

Whilst the letter should be formal in tone, keep the use of English simple and straight forward. It is not advisable to try to impress by using obscure, over complicated language and do be careful about using jargon that may be unfamiliar to the reader.

What should be included in the letter?
We would suggest the following as a possible structure for a covering letter:

Section 1. Introduction
Explain briefly who you are, what you are applying for and where you saw the job advertised.

Section 2: Why this job?
This could include a brief explanation about your career goals, your interest in the company / organisation and, most critically, why you are interested in this particular role.

Try to avoid just writing empty statements about how wonderful the employer is and what an honour it will be to work for them. Instead, make sure you do your best to find out as much as you can about the opportunity and explain specifically what it is that attracts you to this job role, as opposed to similar jobs with other employers.

You may like to refer to any conversations you have had with members of their team at careers events you have attended or with students who have returned from placement with them. Explain what you have learned that reinforces your interest in the role. Ideally you will be able to demonstrate your genuine interest in and enthusiasm for the job.

Section 3: Why you?
This is your chance to explain why you are a good fit for this role. This will overlap with the information you have provided in your CV.

Try not to just repeat all the details you have provided in your CV, instead emphasise the key highlights from your CV that demonstrate that you have the skills, personal qualities and qualifications the employer is seeking.

Section 4: Any additional information
There may be occasions when you may need to explain something that may otherwise rule you out from consideration for the post. For example, you may have been unwell during your first year exams and have achieved slightly lower grades than they may normally require.

Many recruiters do have some flexibility in the qualifications they will accept BUT they will need to know if there are any mitigating circumstances.

Section 5: Conclusion
Round off the letter in a positive fashion, reinforce your interest in the position and perhaps indicate that you look forward to meeting the employer at interview.
If you prefer, you could change the order so you talk about what you have to offer first and then explain your suitability for the job – either approach is fine.

Check two good example letters on pages 23 and 24 of this useful CV and Cover Letter guide produced by LSE.

Proof read and make sure your letter is word perfect
Make sure the letter reads well. Check for typos and ensure there are no spelling or grammatical errors.It is a good idea to get someone else to read through your letter and check for any mistakes.

Whatever you do – don’t make this mistake!

Every employer recounts stories of the applicant that sent them a covering letter in which they mistakenly refer to their interest in working for their major competitor.

‘I have always wanted to work for Deloitte’ is not going to go down too well in your application to PwC!

It really is better to make fewer, high quality applications. Make sure you take the time to research each employer and produce properly tailored letters that demonstrate your interest in what they are offering.

Further advice on covering letters

Make sure you read our information leaflet ‘Writing Effective CVs and Covering Letters’

You may also like to read these excellent guidelines provided by colleagues at the University of Oxford.


Further help with your Covering Letter available from the Employability and Careers Centre
Look out for talks and workshops we are running as part of our careers events calendar.

You may like to get some feedback on your letter by making use of our Quick Query service which runs every week day throughout the year at the Employability and Careers Centre.

This blog post has been written by Andrew Bennett, a Careers Adviser from the Employability and Careers Centre.