There has been a lot of debate about whether a cover letter is needed when applying for a job. Sometimes, the application information will state that a cover letter is required and sometimes it is not mentioned. For on-line applications, a very similar document, such as a letter of motivation or statement of support, could be required.
Whether the document is read, the cover letter, letter of motivation, or statement of support does allow you to state your case and point out in no uncertain terms why they should pick you to go forward in the interview process.
Remember that the recruiter or hiring manager desperately wants to find the best candidate, and you can make it easier for them by pointing out your best qualifications and motivation. You should customise the letter for each job.
Parts of the Cover Letter
Your name should be the first text on the page and in a slightly larger font size than the rest of the letter. If you wish, you can include your post-nominal letters.
An example of showing education qualifications is George Harrison, BSc, MBA (note that they are listed in ascending order). Other post-nominals are MP (Member of Parliament), QC (Queen’s Counsel), Assoc CIPD (indicating a level of professional membership in the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development), KBE (indicating that you have received a British honour), VE (indicating receipt of the Victoria Cross military decoration) and RAF (showing membership in the Royal Air Force).
Contact details should be next. Most likely, the first contact will be made by email or telephone, so include both of those first. There is no need to append either with ’email:’ or ‘Telephone:’ because it is obvious..
If your application is going outside the UK, include the country code. An example is (+44) 1506 555 555 or if you know the dialling out code for the recipient’s country, such as Canada, use 011-44-15206-555-555. If the destination is unknown, use the generic (+44) (0)1506 555 555.
Ensure that you have a clear and professional-sounding voicemail or answerphone message. State your name (to reassure the caller that they have reached the correct person) and if possible, a time at which you will reply to their call. An example of this would be, “Hello. You have reached the voicemail of Andrew Parker. Please leave a message and I will call you back as soon as possible. Thank you for calling.” Do not answer your phone to a potential employer when you may not be heard properly. If you are in a noisy environment and/or you cannot give 100% attention to the caller, it is better to call back from a quiet place where you will not be disturbed. First impressions count.
As well, include your postal address and use UK only if it is going outside the country. If you have two addresses, put the most relevant first and then the second one. Append them with an explanation. For example, Home: 123 Turpin Road, Walford, London E20 1BG on one line and the next, School Term: 45 Darroch Court, Unit 567, Edinburgh EH12 5TH. Use the Royal Mail‘s website for guidance if you are unsure of how to present a postal address.
For clarity sake, write out the date instead of using only numbers. For example, use November 17, 2014 instead of 17/11/14.
Recipient’s Name and Address
If information about who to contact was given on the job spec, then use their name and/or job title. If not, try to find out who will receive it. If this information is unavailable, then just use the company name and address.
Following the contact person’s information, leave a blank line and place the job’s reference information. If you have been given a reference number, use that. You can also use the job title. Underline it.
If the job, and therefore the letter, is formal, traditional, or on the old-fashioned side, use Dear as your greeting. For example, Dear Mr Smith, … For a less formal greeting or an email, consider using Hello. If you don’t know the name or the job title of the recipient, consider skipping the greeting altogether. Dear Sir/Madam is very old-fashioned.
Start with why you are applying for the job and who you are. If relevant, tell the reader where you saw the advertisement. For example, “As a qualified care assistant with 6 years of experience in a nursing home and an additional 3 years in a hospice, I was pleased to see your recent advertisement in the Heath Care Today magazine.”
Refer to your application documents (CV or resume) as in “As outlined in the attached CV …” and proceed to summarise your qualifications for this specific job.
Next Paragraphs or Bullet Points
In the same order, elaborate on the points mentioned in your second paragraph using bullet points or short paragraphs. Embolden text, where appropriate. Where it is possible, use the terminology used in the advertisement or company literature.
It is polite to thank the reader for considering your application. Use this space to further emphasise why you would be a good choice. It is also a good place to address other job criteria, such as availability to start, ability to travel, salary expectations, and permission to work in the country.
Frequently Asked Questions about Cover Letters
What should I include when writing in response to an advertisement?
You should address all the primary criteria and as much of the secondary criteria as possible. If they ask for someone with five years of experience and you have that or more, include it. Here’s an example: “During my 6-year career as a civil engineer, …” The reader can now give you instant credit for having that criterion.
Where do I put the job reference number in an email?
If the letter is via email, then put this as part of the subject. For example, Subject: Amy Edwards CV Job Ref: HCP205.
Where do I put the job reference number on a Word document or hard copy?
If your letter is a Word document or a printed page, then use a reference line as part of the letter format. This should be on a line on its own with a space before and after. It should be placed before the greeting (an example of a greeting is Dear Mr. Jones). Use the terminology that is used in the job information, and you may include the job title if you wish. For example, Ref# HCP205/458 (Healthcare Assistant, Grade 3). Underline it to highlight it.
What is the difference between a targeted and a speculative letter?
A letter written in response to a specific advertisement is a targeted letter. A letter written to enquire as to possible vacancies is a speculative letter.
Do I put my salary expectations in my cover letter?
If this is a job criteria (that is, asked for in the job advertisement), then you are obliged to answer and failure to do so could result in your application not proceeding any further. The closing paragraph of the cover letter is the best place to do this.