A cover letter tells employers why you’re interested in the job, why you’d be such a good fit for the role and for the organisation, what relevant skills you have and what you would be bringing to the role that others might not be. Writing a cover letter for a graduate job means focussing on keeping it clear, concise and professional.
Cover letters are usually asked for alongside your CV or resume as part of the application process for a role.
In this guide, we’ve compiled a list of the most common questions asked about cover letters and how to write a good one, with some practical guidance on what you can include and what you can do to make sure yours is ticking all the right boxes.
So whether you’re looking for your first graduate job after your degree, or a part-time job to support yourself alongside your studies, here are some of the most frequently asked questions (and answers) about writing a great cover letter.
Why is a compelling cover letter important?
The person going through your application will skim through your CV, so the cover letter will allow them to find out a little more about you and in more of a conversational format. They will most likely review the documents alongside each other, so they should be used to complement each other in a way that sells yourself.
How do you prepare for writing a cover letter?
Alongside reading the job description, there are a few other things you can do to prepare. For example, find out who will be reading the cover letter so you can address it to them. Knowing this also means you can tailor your content in terms of the level of detail you go into. Read up on the industry the company sits within – knowing a little bit about its competitors and market position will help demonstrate you’re genuinely interested in the organisation’s performance.
As well as this kind of research, spend a little time on their website or reading their communications. You might get an idea of their culture, personality, and how they speak. If they use particularly formal language, you might want to mirror this in how you write your letter. Or, if it seems to be part of their brand to be more informal and straight talking, you might want to use slightly less formal language in your cover letter to help demonstrate your genuineness.
What should you include in a graduate cover letter?
It’s important to read the job description for the role you’re going for as this will detail the kind of experience that’s needed. This should help guide your content. But, here are a few starting points:
- State the position you’re applying for near the beginning, and when you can start.
- Why do you want that role and why do you want to be a part of that organisation? Use your letter to stress how the values of the company you’re applying for align with your own and why you’re so well-suited.
- Also highlight your knowledge of that organisation – their structure, teams, previous awards, campaigns, what products and services they offer, how they operate.
- You can also use your cover letter to show that you understand the sector and market, and how your experience (studies and any relevant work experience) has given you insight into these.
- Highlight skills from your CV that are most relevant to the role. A cover letter allows you to expand on these in a way that’s really relevant to this company. Talk about your experience and demonstrate how it and your skills match the specific requirements of the job description, using examples.
- Show them your personality and tell them about your USP. Your unique selling points are what will make them choose you over someone else when you might be equally qualified for a role. Be positive and confident about what you have to offer.
- Use a final paragraph to conclude your cover letter. A thank you to the hiring decision-maker for taking the time to consider your application is always a good idea. Don’t forget to reiterate your interest in the role and indicate your desire for an interview (or video interview).
What should you include in a cover letter for a part-time job?
For most part-time jobs in the UK, which won’t usually require higher-education academic qualifications, they will want to know more about the varied experience you have. This could be any work experience you have from bar work, retail, to customer service etc. Or, it could be any voluntary work or days where you have helped out at a charity event, for example.
Focus on your soft skills. These are also known as transferable skills as they can be applied to most kinds of work and are useful everyday traits we learn from experience. They include skills like:
- Organisational skills
- Time management
- Team leading
- Public speaking
- Conflict resolution
Most employers will want to know about your academic studies too, but the detail is irrelevant to them. So, this should be a letter focussing on practical transferable skills like these. If you haven’t worked much or at all before, you could use examples from university or college that help demonstrates them. For example, did you have a particularly difficult project group that meant you had to step up and take the lead for the sake of your shared grade? Your cover letter could include some (brief) examples of these instead of going into detail about your qualifications.
Other than this, they can be laid out and formatted in the same way.
How should you format a cover letter?
When it comes to the layout, order and formatting of your cover letter, there are no hard rules – but here are a few sensible layout suggestions that will help your letter flow well:
- Right at the top should be your name (first and last only), and this should be in bold. This should be followed by your phone number and email address. Including it here makes it as easy as possible for the recruiter to find your details and get in touch about an interview.
- Include any online profiles you want them to review directly under these details. For example, your LinkedIn profile if you have one, your website if you have one, or a portfolio of work if this is relevant to the role.
- Then, include your university course and the qualification you were awarded if the job asks for it. Don’t forget to include the classification you were awarded for it.
- Next, add the date that you send the letter (rather than the date you’ve written it).
- After that, it’s on the content of your letter. Make sure to break the content up into a few paragraphs so it’s digestible for the reader.
When it comes to font size, don’t be tempted to go for a smaller size and cram more in. It will make it more difficult to read and might mean they just move on to the next one. Keep the font to size 10-12. Opt for a professional-looking font that’s easy to read both on screen and on paper – like Arial, Verdana or Calibri. For the best readability, choose line spacing at 1.5.
And, keep your cover letter aesthetically aligning with your CV and any other documents (like a portfolio). It looks professional as well as makes it easier for them to match your documents up and remember you.
Who should you address a cover letter to?
You should always address your cover letter directly to the person who’ll be reading it. That’s if you know who they are. If the person receiving it is addressed personally, you’re much more likely to get a response – even if it’s to let you know you haven’t been successful. If you don’t know who will be reading it, go with ‘Dear Sir/Madam’, Dear HR director’ or ‘Dear hiring manager’.
When it comes to signing off your cover letter, how you do this depends on how you addressed it at the beginning. If you were able to include a named contact, go with ‘Yours sincerely’. Or, go with ‘Yours faithfully’ if you had to go with a generic addressee.
How long should a cover letter be?
Try to keep your cover letter to one side of A4, but you should be including enough content that it’s at least half a page long. The easier you make it to read, the more likely the reader is to keep reading and ask you for an interview. So, keep it clear and concise. Don’t use long-winded sentences that veer away from the points you need to get across.
And most importantly, take some time to check your spelling and grammar. It would be a shame to spoil a great letter with typos and spelling mistakes. Proofread it a couple of times – doing this aloud is the best way to do it. Then give it to a friend or family member to read through with fresh eyes. They’re much more likely to spot any typos or mistakes that might be off-putting to an organisation that values attention to detail.