How to write a Covering Note / Letter

Written by: Gwyneth Holland / Mike Wood
Published on: 6 Feb 2019

The main purpose of a covering letter is to present your CV in support of your job application. This may be obvious, but it’s surprising how many people appear to think that a covering letter needs to be long and complicated, and somehow justify its own existence... They create a covering letter that repeats all the information in the CV only in different words. Wrong!

If you're sending a physical letter & CV, your covering letter needs to be quite short - never more than one side of A4. If you're completing an online application, the form field may be limited, so keep it focused.

In either case, it should show the employers that you want the job and explains anything relevant which might not otherwise be apparent.

Never send a covering note which says ‘I enclose my CV, from which you will see ………….’ The employers can work out for themselves what is in the CV and they certainly don’t need telling the same thing twice. If you have followed all the correct advice and are presenting a good CV, then let it speak for itself. Remember; the time allocated to considering your application will probably take in both the CV and covering letter, so don’t waste any of that valuable time.

If you're sending a physical CV and cover letter, be careful that you address the letter exactly as you have been instructed to. Although many letter-writing conventions are now seen to be old fashioned, there is still no excuse for bad manners. For example, you should not address somebody by their first name unless you have been invited to do so.

If the instructions are to send the letter ‘for the attention of…’ then nowadays it is OK to put ‘Dear [full name]’ at the beginning of the letter. In this case, you should end the letter with ‘Yours sincerely’.

Online, if you don't know the name of the recruiter, (which is likely) it is acceptable to start with "Dear Sir/Madam" or "To Whom It May Concern"

Before starting to write the letter do some research so that you can have some background information about the organisation you are applying to. It’s really easy to go on their website and find out more about them. This will help not only with your covering letter, but also when it comes to an interview.

Beware of making your covering note look like a "cut and paste" letter that has been sent out for a number of different jobs. The best thing to do is to create a generic one that can be ‘personalised’ for each individual job application.

Use the title of the job and where it has been advertised at the top of the letter or as the subject matter.

You can then start the letter by saying ‘I enclose my CV in support of my application for the above position’. Go on to say why you believe you are particularly well suited to this role. Try to identify some specific skills or experience that you have which make you a strong candidate.

Say what it is about the job that appeals to you and why you would like to be considered. Then you can use the research that you did earlier to identify reasons why you would like to work for their organisation. Say something positive about them – there’s nothing wrong with a little flattery as long as you don’t overdo it.

Use the covering letter to explain anything which might otherwise raise a question. An example of this might be if the job you were applying for involved travelling, when you could say that you were happy to relocate as necessary.

Make the letter very positive and make sure that give the impression that you actually want that particular job. Keep it businesslike and remember that this is a mutually beneficial arrangement so avoid appearing too humble.

Before sending, read it through very carefully. Check for spelling mistakes, (spell check it) or ask somebody else to do so if you are unsure, and don’t forget to attach /enclose your CV.