To give your job application the best possible chance of success you need to know how to write a relevant and concise cover letter. Take a look at our examples for inspiration
What is a cover letter?
A cover letter is a document sent alongside your CV when applying for jobs. It acts as a personal introduction and helps to sell your application. A cover letter is necessary as it gives you the chance to explain to an employer why you're the best candidate for the job. You do this by highlighting relevant skills and experience; therefore you should always write your cover letter with the position you're applying for in mind.
Cover letters should complement your CV but not duplicate it. The general consensus among recruiters when it comes to the length of these documents is the shorter the better. Typically three to five short paragraphs, cover letters should not exceed one A4 page. If sending electronically, put the text in the body of the email rather than as an attachment, to avoid it being detected by spam filters.
Applications should always include a cover letter unless the job advert instructs you differently.
How to write a cover letter
Keep your cover letter brief, while making sure it emphasises your suitability for the job. It can be broken down into the following sections:
- First paragraph - The opening statement should set out why you're writing the letter. Begin by stating the position you're applying for, where you saw it advertised and when you are available to start.
- Second paragraph - Cover why you’re suitable for the job, what attracted you to this type of work, why you're interested in working for the company and what you can offer the organisation.
- Third paragraph - Highlight relevant experience and demonstrate how your skills match the specific requirements of the job description. Summarise any additional strengths and explain how these could benefit the company.
- Last paragraph - Use the closing paragraph to round up your letter. Reiterate your interest in the role and indicate your desire for a personal interview. Now is the time to mention any unavailable dates. Finish by thanking the employer and say how you are looking forward to receiving a response.
How to address a cover letter
Always try and address your cover letter directly to the person who will be reading it. Bear in mind that you're more likely to receive a reply if you send it to the right person.
Advertised positions usually include a contact name, but if not, it is worth taking the time to find out who the letter should be addressed to. You can do this by searching the company’s website for details of the hiring manager or alternatively you could call the organisation to ask who you should address your letter to. Don't be afraid to do this, many employers will appreciate you taking the time and initiative to do so.
If you're struggling to find a named contact you can use a general salutation such as:
- Dear Sir/Madam
- Dear Hiring manager
- Dear Human resources director.
However, general greetings should only be used once you have exhausted methods of finding a named contact. How you sign off your cover letter depends on how you addressed it. If you include a named contact sign off 'yours sincerely'. If you use a general one finish with 'yours faithfully'.
Example cover letters
6 tips for the perfect cover letter
With employers often receiving lots of applications for each vacancy, you need to ensure that your cover letter makes a lasting impression for the right reasons. Here are some tips to increase your chances of success:
- Be concise - Ideally a cover letter should take up half a page of A4 or one full page if necessary. Read through the document and cut out any unnecessary words and sentences. Don't fill up available space by repeating what's already covered in your CV.
- Tailor to the organisation - You should rewrite your cover letter every time you apply for a position in order to target the individual company. Sending out a generic letter for all applications rarely yields positive results and recruiters can spot your lack of time and effort from a mile away.
- Proofread - Never rely on a computer spellcheck program to pick up every mistake. Print off your cover letter and double-check for spelling and grammar errors before passing it to family member or friend to look over. Also make sure that your own contact details and the company name are correct.
- Format - Presentation is important so you'll need to format your cover letter properly. Make sure the document is as uncluttered as possible, use the same font and size as you use in your CV and if you're sending it through the post or handing it in use good quality plain white paper to print it on.
- Identify your USPs - They're your unique selling points. Be positive about what you have to offer and clearly outline how your skills and experience meet those requested in the job description. Demonstrate why you’re the perfect candidate.
- Include examples - Back up the claims in your cover letter with real evidence or examples that show how and when you've used your skills and experience.
Find out more
If you're a student or recent graduate you can make an appointment with your university's careers and employability service to access further help when writing your cover letter. You'll be able to talk with specially-trained advisers, get advice on what to include and have a professional eye look over your application before sending.
Written by Jemma Smith, Editor
Prospects · April 2017
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You must submit a covering letter at step four of your online application for graduate positions and internships at Citi. Get this right and you’ll be a step closer to securing a job. This is what you should and shouldn’t do.
Research Citi, the division and the role
Carry out thorough research into the bank, your chosen business area and preferred role before you begin.
Speak with current employees at networking, campus or careers events to find out more about the business and day-to-day responsibilities, or reflect on past conversations and placements if applicable.
Explain why you’re applying to Citi
Specify in your covering letter why Citi has attracted you. Plenty of banks offer graduate jobs and internships; what makes Citi different? Perhaps it’s the bank’s key obligations: to act responsibly, do everything possible to create the best outcomes, and prudently manage risk. Doing everything possible to create the best possible outcomes’, for example, implies very high levels of client care; maybe this customer-led culture appeals to you. State what you like and why.
Say why you’ve chosen the business area
Citi offers a range of full-time, placement and internship opportunities across a number of its business areas. These include corporate and investment banking, capital markets origination, markets and securities services, treasury and trade solutions (TTS), private banking, risk, finance, HR and technology. Graduate recruiters want you to clarify in your covering letter why you have decided to apply to the division you’ve chosen. Think about the different aspects of the division: the clients and colleagues you’ll work with; the team’s objectives; the day-to-day work you’d do; and training and development opportunities. Then pinpoint what appeals to you and why.
Tell recruiters why you should be hired
Include your relevant skills and experience, and why you believe you should be considered for the role. Focus on the qualities you need to do the job. Citi’s investment banking arm, for instance, seeks candidates who have strong teamwork, analytical, research and communication skills, as well as business acumen.
However, it’s also worth being candid and mentioning what you believe are your main strengths, even if they don’t feature in the job description. Citi recruiters have in the past matched applicants with other positions within the business that they didn’t apply for based on their skills set and experience.
Substantiate the claims you make with examples. For instance, if you describe yourself as a good communicator with great people skills in your covering letter, say how you have demonstrated this at university, work or elsewhere. Perhaps you hosted events and delivered presentations while you were the president of a university society.
Citi recruiters welcome a spot of name-dropping, as long as the employee you mention will recollect meeting or having a conversation with you. You could say, for example, something along the lines of ‘After speaking with [eg] Jessica Plant, EMEA graduate recruiter at Citi, about the company, I conducted further research into the business area and...’
If you have met Citi representatives at a careers, campus or networking event, mention that in your covering letter. Citi recruiters want to see that you have tried to engage with the bank. If you attended an event you could also mention that you were chosen from X amount of applicants. This would show that you have met the stringent requirements of the event, so are well placed to meet Citi’s.
Exceed one sheet of A4
Your covering letter shouldn’t go over one page of A4, or three to four paragraphs. Citi’s graduate recruiter says you should make sure you answer the three main ‘whys’: why Citi; why the division; and why you. You could use these questions to help you structure your letter and reduce your chances of going off on a tangent.
Rush your covering letter
The recruiter says: 'You should take time over your covering letter and sleep on it before you submit.' She adds that you should ask two people (such as a university lecturer and a classmate) to give it the once-over for mistakes, overall sense and effectiveness.
Citi isn’t looking to hire run-of-the-mill graduates; the recruiter says ‘fresh’ candidates who can ‘think outside the box’ are sought. If you can demonstrate that you’re the creative and innovative type whose ideas can make a difference, your covering letter will surely stand out.
Maybe while at university you set up a finance society that, by your penultimate year, had more than 25 members. Or perhaps you co-developed a mobile phone application that was downloaded by hundreds of people within a year of its launch.