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How to write a cover letter

Need help? Here's how we can support you with your cover letters.

If you’ve struggled with cover letters in the past and you’re worried they’re holding you back, we can help.

Step 1: Use the information below to write your cover letter

Step 2: Upload your cover letter to CareerSet for immediate feedback

  • Make sure you read the whole of the feedback report, not just the bullet point highlights
  • Edit your cover letter and reupload - repeat as many times as you like

Step 3: If you have a specific question that CareerSet can’t help you with, upload your cover letter to your documents on Handshake and message the careers Information Team, requesting a review.

We do not offer a repeat cover letter 'checking' service, so when you have applied the feedback, you should return to CareerSet to help further refine your cover letter. 

Read the Talk to Us page for more information about our support.

Postgraduate students should also visit the Graduate Research School's Applications and interviews page.

What is a cover letter?

A cover letter (or covering letter) is a document that accompanies your CV when you are applying for jobs. It’s a chance for you to expand on your CV and explain why you’re interested in and qualified for the job.

Letter or email?

It’s unlikely that you’ll actually post a job application, but even when emailing an application many employers still prefer you to attach a cover letter and CV, rather than put the content of your cover letter in the body of your email.

Saying that, don’t worry too much. Just do what the employer asks you to do. If they say to apply with a CV and cover letter, attach a CV and cover letter to your email. If you’re unsure, ask us.

How to lay it out

Set out your cover letter as a formal letter. That means your name and address on the top right and the address of the employer on the left. Include the job title and/or job application reference. Sign off your letter ‘Yours faithfully’ or ‘Yours sincerely’ depending on who you have addressed the letter to (‘Yours sincerely’ when your letter is addressed to a person, ‘Yours faithfully’ when your letter is addressed to the organisation or ‘Sir/Madam’).

What to include

Unless you’re told otherwise, keep your cover letter brief. One side of A4 is enough. Here’s a general structure:

  • Paragraph One: Introduce yourself and explain what’s motivated you to apply for this role. Explain why you want to work for the employer and why you want that specific role.
  • Paragraph Two/three: Explain why you are suited to the role. Highlight your strengths, skills and experiences that are relevant. You can refer to sections of your CV but don’t just repeat what’s on there.
  • Final paragraph: Conclusion. Draw everything together and end on a positive note.


  • If you’re given instructions, follow them. Sometimes you’ll be given a word count or be told to write a cover letter no longer than one page of A4.
  • Remember that your cover letter is a chance to show off your writing style and your ability to be concise. Do not ramble or write your letter like an academic essay.
  • When outlining your skills, refer back to the job description to make it clear how your skills are relevant.
  • If you’re sending a speculative application (applying for a role that isn’t being advertised) try to address your cover letter to a specific person. Letters addressed to the company or to ‘Sir/Madam’ are easily ignored. Use LinkedIn or the company website to find the name of the best person to contact.
  • Proofread, and consider asking a family member or friend to check it. We can give you feedback on your cover letter but we do not provide a proofreading service. Use Texthelp tools to get your computer to read out your answers to help you spot mistakes.
  • If you are thinking of using AI (artificial intelligence) to write your cover letter, have a look at some of the things to consider as an applicant.

Speculative applications

A lot of jobs are never advertised; sometimes a job may even be created for you if you are the right person. Read our advice on sending speculative applications:

  • In order to write a good speculative letter/email you will first need to do some research into the organisation you are writing to. This way you will be able to target your application to their needs and demonstrate your passion for the company, role and industry
  • Catch the attention of the person you are writing to. Give them a clear reason to want to contact you and take things further. For example, demonstrate that you have relevant skills, perhaps through extra-curricular activities and explain how offering you work experience will be of benefit to them (not just you!). Include a web link to your best work if possible. Also demonstrate that you understand what they do as an organisation - perhaps mention an interest in the clients they work with/your enjoyment of a documentary they made/an article you read that resonated with you – ie really tailor the application to that particular organisation
  • Be explicit about what you are asking for and what you can offer
  • It is a good idea to write to a specific named individual. If necessary phone to clarify who the best person to contact would be before sending your letter/email. Company websites, X/Twitter and LinkedIn profiles may also be useful for this
  • Follow it up! It’s a good idea to contact the organisation a week or two after you have sent it. Ask if they’ve had a chance to read it and whether there will be any opportunities for you. If not, find out if they know of anyone else you could approach for work experience opportunities
  • Create an online presence: use social or professional networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn. Not only can you find out about companies in this way, they can find out about you! Use X/Twitter to follow individuals working in the roles you are interested in - this will help you keep up to date with their news, but could also lead to job opportunities (eg they could put out a last minute call for help if a runner lets them down). However, remember they can check you out online, so think about the impression you want to give and lock down your privacy settings of anything personal you wouldn’t want them to see.