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Tailoring Your Graduate Cover Letter

Whatever sort of job you are applying for, whether it’s in the public or private sector, in industry or academia, or in sales or product development, you must always target your cover letter.

A generic letter will tell the employer straight away that you are not really interested or committed to the position and their company.

Taking the time and putting in the effort to tailor your letter to each individual role will allow you to show initiative and that you are genuinely enthusiastic about working for the employer.

The structure and content of the cover letter will vary depending on the type of job and the form of application.

For example you may be replying to a job advert, writing a speculative letter to a company who are not currently advertising positions, or be applying for a work experience placement.

Whatever the purpose of your letter, make sure you sell yourself as much as possible, and get across what you can do for this company (not the other way around!).

Applying for an advertised job

1. Do some thorough research into the company and into the job that you are applying for so that you can impress the recipient with your knowledge.

2. Make sure you satisfy all of the requirements outlined in the advertisement and address each of these in your cover letter.

3. Draw attention to your suitability for the job by emphasising all your relevant qualifications, skills and experience.

Don't just list these - back them up with examples of what you've done in previous job roles, and include any significant achievements as evidence and to demonstrate your capabilities.

4. Remember to address the letter to the named person given in the advertisement.

5. Structure your cover letter with an opening, middle and end.

Applying for a job that hasn’t been advertised

Applying for a job that hasn't been advertised can be a successful method of finding employment.

There is unlikely to be a pile of other applicants so your CV and cover letter will not be at the bottom of a heap of envelopes and will (hopefully) receive more attention from the employer.

The company should immediately recognise that you have shown initiative by sending a speculative application.

If you are making this sort of application, you have to make sure what the company actually do, so carry out your research thoroughly.

In the opening paragraph you should show your knowledge of the company and make a positive statement about what you can contribute.

If possible reference somebody within the company, or a newspaper article or other publication.

In the closing paragraph you can tell them your next course of action, for example 'I will telephone you next week on Friday to discuss the possibility of an interview'.

Applying for a work experience placement

Work experience is a great way of finding out what career path you should take.

Good companies encourage it and give the work experience person more tasks than just make the tea, take photocopies and sort the mail.

For example they will pair you up with an employee to shadow so you can see what they do and get some hands on experience.

There are two types of work experience - paid and unpaid.

It is easier to get placement for unpaid work experience, since obviously, the employer is saving money by not paying you for your time.

If you wish to apply for work experience, you should try to address your cover letter to a named person within the company.

Highlight in your letter how your school or college module/subject choices are relevant to the sector to which you are applying for.

If you are requesting unpaid experience then be sure to say so in the letter. However if you are looking for paid experience, do not mention payment at this stage.

State that you will be following up the letter with a telephone call the following week.

Further information

For more tips and advice on writing your graduate CV and looking for a postgraduate job, please see: