How To Write A Graduate Cover Letter

Applying for graduate jobs but not sure how to prepare your cover letter?

With a heap of job applications on their desk, an employer will spend less than half a minute looking at each one.

This means that in this short space of time, your cover letter must make enough impact to make the reader want to know more about you.

A cover letter should build upon the information set out in your CV – basically it is a targeted sales pitch that clearly states exactly why the employer should hire you.

All of its contents should reiterate to the reader that you are the right person for this particular job.

What should I include in my cover letter?

Before you start to write your letter, it’s a good idea to do some research on the company/employer and into the role that you are applying for.

The easiest way to do this is on the Internet – Google can help you dig up information about the company.

Make note of any news articles they have been featured in or any publications they are mentioned in.

Make sure you know exactly what the company does and whom their competitors are.

Try to determine what the company's business plan is.

For example, if they have invested a lot of money in an elegant website they could be hoping to expand more into online sales.

Try to find out exactly what will be expected of you should you be offered the job.

For example what are the duties and responsibilities of a product development scientist and what skills/qualities should they posses?

If you have carried out research prior to the interview, it shows the employer that you have initiative and that you are genuinely interested in the company.

It will also allow you to use terminology that is relevant to the audience.

For example the company may be quite relaxed or very formal, new or established, rapidly expanding or not progressing at all at the moment.

How should I address my cover letter?

The manner in which you address your letter is crucial. After spending time getting it word perfect, you do not want it to be sent to the wrong person or for it to be misplaced.

If you are applying for an advertised vacancy there will usually be a contact name on the advert, and so you should address your letter to that person.

If you are writing to a company for a job when they have not advertised a vacancy, the chances are that unless you have a contact on the inside you will not know the name of the person you need to write to.

In this case you can address your letter to the manager of the specific departments to which you are applying, for example Marketing Manager, or Sales Manager.

Alternatively you can send it to the Human Resources Manager or Personnel Manager.

Check out the company's website and see if you can track down the name of an appropriate recipient.

You can also try phoning up the company and ask for the name of the head of department to which you are applying.

To keep your letter looking professional, make sure that the recipient's name, department and address details on the envelope are the same as at the top of the cover letter.

How should I begin my cover letter?

  • Dear Mr Blackwell - If you know the name of the person to whom you are writing
  • Dear Ms Hobbs - If you are not sure of the marital status of the female recipient
  • Dear Sir/Madam - If you do not know the name of the recipient

The opening paragraph

The opening paragraph should be short, to the point, and make an impression on the reader.

Start with a captivating sentence in which you explain why you are writing to them.

For example 'I would like to be considered for the position of Product Development Scientist'.

If you are applying for an advertised position then say where you saw the advert, e.g. ' In response to the Product Development Scientist job vacancy advertised in New Scientist'.

If someone referred you to your contact, you can mention their referral in this section.

Some examples of opening paragraphs:

  • In response to the advertised position in The Times on July 2nd, please consider my CV in your search for a Junior Web Developer.
  • I was pleased to hear from Jeremy Gladstone that you will soon have a vacancy for a Product Development Scientist. I am writing to express my interest and enthusiasm for this position, and I believe that with my skills I could be an asset to your company.
  • Having recently read in The Guardian of your company's plans for expansion, I am writing to establish whether this will involve an increase in personnel. As a final year business student at Exeter University, I am seeking a position in August that will develop my marketing and finance skills.
  • I am writing to apply for the Livestock Assistant position advertised in the October 4th issue of Country Life.

Second Paragraph

Why should an employer be interested in employing you?

In this part you should briefly describe your professional and academic qualifications that are relevant to the position.

If the job was advertised refer to all of the required skills quoted in the ad.

Third Paragraph

Here you should emphasise what you can do for the company (not what they can do for you!).

Outline a relevant career goal, for example if you are applying for Sales positions do not say that you are training to be a mechanic.

Try to incorporate your research and expand on the most relevant points of your CV.

Fourth Paragraph

Politely ask for action by indicating your desire for a personal interview and that you're available to meet with the employer at their convenience.

Some job adverts will ask you to include salary requirements – however, you can choose to ignore this, and wait until the interview to talk about money.

Alternatively you could just include a broad salary range, for example £15 - 20K.

Never talk about salary in your covering letter unless the company indicates you should.

Closing statement

Finish your letter with 'Yours sincerely' and do not forget to sign it. Write an enclosure line at the bottom.

How do I format my cover letter?

As with standard formal letter writing, your address goes at the top right hand corner.

Miss a line and then put the date in full, e.g. 3rd July 2014.

The recipient's address goes on the left hand side on the line immediately after the date.

Employ appropriate margin and paragraph spacing so that your letter is not bunched up at the top of the page but is evenly distributed and balanced.

The envelope should look as professional as its contents. Do not use any fancy stationary - a simple white envelope is best.

A good trick is to use an A4 sized envelope – not only will it keep your application flat and unfolded, but as it is bigger than a standard sized envelope, there is a higher chance of the employer choosing it from the pile of applications!

Use a decent pen that doesn’t blotch, with black ink and use your best hand writing. Alternatively the envelope can be typed.

Always type your covering letter and use the same quality plain paper that your printed your CV on.

Important points to remember

  • Avoid sounding arrogant and including over-used, wishy-washy phrases such as ‘I have excellent communication skills’ – remember, you need your letter to be unique!
  • Try to avoid using 'I' too much. A page of 'I did this' and 'I did that' does not make for a good read - it tells the employer that you haven't thought about what you can do for them.
  • Do not use abbreviations such as 'uni'.
  • Do not exceed four paragraphs of content or write more than one side of A4 paper.
  • To satisfy the skim reader, try to use a few industry sound bites and buzzwords.
  • Subtly flatter the company or employer, for example 'you are the industry leader', or ‘your projects are at the leading edge of progress in the field’.
  • Check and then recheck your spelling, grammar and punctuation (don’t forget to use the Spellchecker on your computer!).
  • Get someone else to proofread it as well, in case they notice any mistakes you may have missed.
  • If you are making a speculative application you should follow up the letter with a phone call, e-mail or personal visit to the company.
  • Paper clip your covering letter to your CV - never send out one without the other.

Further information

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