Beyond the frame with Sophie
Cover Letters: What are they and how do you write one?
29th April 2021
Reading time: 5mins
Cover letters are something everyone has to write when job hunting. They are arguably one of the most boring parts of applying for a job, but once nailed, they don't have to take up hours of your time. If, like us, you are in the midst of job hunting, have a listen to our podcast episode on the topic.
What actually is a Cover Letter though?
As defined in our Helpful Career Jargon page, a cover letter (also known as a statement of intent or motivation letter) is where you sell yourself in a job application. It is usually sent with your CV, allowing you to expand on your CV and explain why you are the best person for the job. Sometimes the job advert will specify the length, but usually, they are no 2 pages max. Your cover letter is a formal piece of writing and should be formatted with your employer's address, your address, and the date.
Now we know exactly what a cover letter is, let's move on to figuring out how to write one.
How to write a Cover Letter: An Easy Guide
Step 1. Laying out your letter
Cover letters should always start with your name and details in the top right corner and the employer's name and address and date of writing directly underneath on the left. This makes your cover letter look professional and clearly states to the person who is reading it who you are.
Step 2. Find out the employee’s name
A cover letter should always be addressed to someone. If a name is not given in the job description or application pack, get on LinkedIn and do some searching. Addressing someone personally shows you have taken the time to find out who works at the company. If you really can’t find a name, then use ‘Dear Sir/Madam’.
Step 3. Add a subject line
Much like an email, a cover letter needs a subject line to indicate clearly what your purpose of writing is. For example: ‘Application for the role of Research Assistant’ or ‘Research Assistant, Museum of London’
Step 4. Opening sentence
Start your letter with your reason for getting in touch. This is similar to the subject line but in a bit more depth. You should include where you saw the job being advertised and if you are including anything else in your application like your CV.
Step 5. Time to research the company
This is maybe the part I find hardest when writing a cover letter and because of that I usually leave it until the end. But, you need to do a bit of research on the company to provide you with reasons for wanting to work there. It does not need to be extensive, just enough to give you a few sentences. I tend to look at the values and ethos page on their website and see if I align with them or mention a specific project or initiative that I like.
Step 6. About you
This is the meatiest part of the letter and is your opportunity to sell yourself. Outline your skills and experience relevant to the role. Have a look at the job description and key responsibilities and write next to each bullet point how and where you have gained the skills. Use these notes to expand this paragraph and show how these skills will enable you to do the job.
Step 7. Sum up
To finish off your cover letter, sum up why you should be offered the job. In a few sentences reiterate your skills and attributes that you think best describe you and how you work.
Step 8. Signing off
The last step is to thank the reader for considering your application and sign off. Use ‘yours sincerely’ if you addressed the letter to someone by name and ‘yours faithfully’ if you used ‘Sir/Madam’.
If you are anything like me, a visual layout of a cover letter makes things a lot clearer. I've created a rough layout of how I structure my cover letters below.
Some final tips:
Keep your letter to 2 pages maximum. Cover letters do not need to be long and complicated. It is very easy to end up waffling about your skills and experience but too long and you are at risk of boring your reader.
Be concise, you will get time to expand further on your experience and skills if you are invited to interview. A cover letter is just giving the employer a taste of who you are and what you can bring to the role.
Keep your letter simple. Unless asked or you feel it is appropriate for the role, use black text in an easy to read font. Size 12 is preferable. Some good fonts to use are ‘Calibri’, ‘Arial’ and ‘Times New Roman’. Making your letter look professional shows the employer that you are serious about the role.
N.B. This guide is just helpful tips and advice that I have picked up along the way. I am not a HR expert or careers advisor!