National Careers Service Cover Letter

A CV (curriculum vitae) is a short list of facts about your education, work history, skills and experience. A good CV is essential when looking for work and it is worth taking the time to get it right so you can sell yourself to an employer.

Creating a new CV

Use your CV to make the most of yourself and your achievements. It is often the first contact you will have with an employer.

How you present your CV is up to you. Use the online CV builder to create, edit, download and print a CV, or follow the tips below to create a good and professional impression.

If you are accessing the CV Builder Tool on a public device, make sure you delete any personal information from the system when you have finished working on it. Check with the device provider if you’re unsure how to do it.

You may also follow the tips below to help you create a good and professional CV.

Presenting your CV

  • print your CV on good-quality, white A4 paper, in a clear font
  • put your name at the top of the page – not curriculum vitae or CV
  • include your address, telephone number and email address at the top
  • show your career history to date , including work experience and employment history
  • present the content clearly and concisely, making it easy to read and understand
  • use positive language
  • aim for no more than  two pages
  • ask someone to proofread it to check your spelling and grammar

You do not need to put your date of birth, age, or salary on your CV.

Always put your most recent job first and remember to include dates. Avoid gaps between dates. Even if you weren't in paid employment refer to voluntary work or other experiences that added to your skills set.

If you’ve had lots of different roles, you may not be able to include everything, so prioritise your most recent and relevant details. Compress earlier roles into short descriptions or just include job titles and highlight the skills and experience you gained across those jobs (such as skills in dealing with customers or communication skills).

If you don't have much work experience, then you can include details of temporary, holiday, part-time or voluntary work. .

What to include in your CV

Below are some examples of what you may want to include in your CV:

A personal profile

A personal profile is a short statement at the beginning of your CV used to sell yourself and to show your skills, experience and personal qualities. You can include positive words such as 'can', 'adaptable', and 'conscientious'. Tailor the statement to the requirements of each job that you apply for, to show the employer that you're the right person for the job.

Skills and strengths

Highlight your skills and strengths. A skill is something you gain with education and experience, a strength is something you are naturally good at. Tailor these to match the requirements of the job you are applying for.

If language skills are important for the job you are applying for, then you need to complete the Europass Language Passport and attach it to your CV.

If the job you are applying for is different from work which  you have previously done, then explain why you are interested in applying for this  new type of work.

Qualifications and training

Include qualifications you got from school or college as well as any qualifications and training from previous jobs (such as training in health and safety or a certificate in food hygiene). Put your most recent qualifications first.

Interests

Your hobbies and leisure activities can help support your application if they highlight responsibilities and skills that are relevant to the job you're applying for, such as organising activities for a  a club you belong to, or using leadership skills or teamwork as part of an activity.

References

You don’t have to include references in your CV but you should state at the end of your CV that references are available.

It's good to have two or more people who can provide a work or personal reference. Ideally, one should be your most recent employer but if you haven't worked for a while it could be someone who has known you for a long time who can comment on your work skills and qualities.

You should ask the referees to agree to this beforehand.

Using your CV

You can send your CV to a company with a covering letter or email asking if they have any current or future vacancies. You can find names and addresses of companies on the internet, in newspapers, or in trade or telephone directories.

You can use your CV to help you remember all the dates and information each time you fill in an application form, apply for a job by phone or before a job interview. You can also leave a copy with the interviewer(s) if they do not already have one.

Recruitment/employment agencies usually ask to see your CV before you register with them.

Covering letter for your CV

It is good manners and professional courtesy to enclose a covering letter with your CV, giving the job reference and repeating your contact details.

While your CV gives the facts about your employment, the covering letter might explain why you are interested in the job and why it's just right for you. You must try to give the prospective employer a reason to want to read your CV.

Keep it short and to the point, one A4 page is preferable.

If you have a contact name write ‘Dear Mr Jones’ and end with ‘Yours sincerely’. If you don’t have a contact name write ‘Dear Sir / Madam’ and end with ‘Yours faithfully’.

State what the vacancy is and how you heard about it, for example, ‘With reference to your advertisement in the Daily News on 2 May'.

List the skills you have that are relevant to the job. If the advert mentions motivation give an example to show how you’re motivated. Give real-life experiences or personal qualities which could make you stand out from other candidates.

Sign your name clearly. Check your spelling and grammar and make sure your letter is set out clearly and logically. Ask someone else to check it over for you.

Enclose your CV with the letter or attach it if sending it by email.

More useful links

A convincing covering letter (or cover letter, as it’s more commonly known in the US) typically accompanies a CV for a graduate vacancy. It’s your opportunity to show recruiters your most relevant skills and demonstrate your motivation and enthusiasm for the job and the employer.

A covering letter shouldn’t be longer than one side of A4. Here's our four-part failsafe guide to using this limited space to sell your skills.

How to write a graduate cover letter in four steps

1. The opening

Tell the graduate recruiter which job you are applying for, where you saw the advert and why you are applying. If the job has a reference number, it is always good to include this.

Tip: always address your covering letter to a named contact. Give the organisation a call to find out to whom you should address your job application if a name isn’t given on the advert. Get the person’s title (and gender!) right: Mr, Miss, Mrs or Ms? Or would another title be appropriate: Dr, for example? People may feel quite strongly about how they are addressed, and it would be a shame to fall at the first hurdle.

2. Why you?

The first paragraph or two are about you. Tell the employer why you are well suited to the role you are applying for, referring directly to the job description and concentrating on how you have the skills, abilities and/or knowledge to excel in the job. Mix evidence of specific skills and knowledge related to the job with work experience examples and personal skills.

At graduate level remember that it’s fine to refer to work experience that isn’t directly related to the profession you are applying to. You need to show how your current experience ‘transfers’ into the job. Examples from part-time jobs, extra-curricular activities and academic work will all help to demonstrate how you have used and developed skills such as communication, teamwork, problem solving, organisation, time management and commercial awareness.

Do you live in the area where the job is based? If not, is the recruiter likely to wonder if you’re going to have problems getting into work in the morning? You may need to explain that you would be willing to relocate.

Tip: avoid copying statements direct from your CV. Think about how you can rephrase the information or expand on particular skills and achievements you have that are right for the role.

3. Why them?

The next paragraph explains why you are interested in the job and the organisation. What is it about the employer and job role that made you apply? This is your opportunity to target your covering letter so that the recruiter knows you are interested in their graduate job and you’re not batch emailing standard CVs and covering letters to all and sundry.

Re-read the job advertisement or job description and make sure you have done some background research into the organisation. This will help you tell the recruiter what attracts you to working for them and why you are interested in the particular job.

Tip: provide specific reasons for applying, such as the work they do or the training they provide. Avoid anything that could be said about pretty much any employer, such as ‘… because you’re a prestigious and dynamic employer’.

4. The ending

The closing paragraph should be strong and clear. Reaffirm your suitability for the role and your enthusiasm about the prospect of working for the employer. State that you look forward to hearing from them and are happy to provide any further information they need.

Don’t forget to sign the letter if you are sending it through the post, or to print your name if you are sending your covering letter by e-mail.

Tip: brush up on how to write a business letter and current format practices. For letters addressed to a named contact, finish: Yours sincerely. Dear Sir/Madam letters finish: Yours faithfully – but it’s better to get a named contact. 

You could turn steps two and three around and write about why you’re applying to the employer first if you'd find that more comfortable. As long as you cover both ‘why you’ and ‘why them’ in the letter, the exact order doesn’t matter.

When to write a covering letter

You must write a covering letter for a job when you are invited to submit a CV via an email or (more rare nowadays) through the post. There are two ways to send your covering letter via email, and both are usually acceptable, though you should check the job advert carefully to see if you have been given any specific instructions.

  • Attach both the CV and the covering letter to your email. Make the email a brief message saying that your application for the vacancy (give the relevant details) is attached.
  • Write the covering letter directly into the email. You could include your contact details as a signature at the end. Attach your CV.

If you are uploading a CV as part of an application form, you don’t usually have to upload a covering letter as well (unless the employer requests one).

Otherwise, you should never opt out of sending a covering letter with your CV. Don’t go for the ‘Please find attached my CV for your consideration’ one liner. It's a missed opportunity.

Tip: use sensible filenames for your attachments, eg Joe Bloggs_covering letter.doc and use a subject line that will make sense to the recipient and looks professional, for example, use the job reference: Vacancy – ED123_PT trainee accountant.

Make your covering letter memorable and to the point

You’ll stand out if you:

  • Don’t waffle
  • Match your skills and experience to the requirements in the job description
  • Avoid generalised statements and clichés
  • Express yourself clearly.

Keep sentences straightforward and fairly simple. Using action verbs will help. Keep your writing professional and err on the side of formality rather than being too chatty.

Tip: read through your covering letter out loud. This will help you identify verbose sentences that can be rewritten and will help you check the sense of your writing.

Check spelling, grammar and sense very carefully

Before you send out a covering letter check it for spelling, grammar and sense. Elegant formatting won’t make up for poor spelling and grammar. Graduate recruiters will be reviewing your attention to detail and your ability to communicate in writing, so your covering letter is your first chance to impress. Get a trusted friend or careers adviser to give it a once over before you send it out.

Tip: when proofreading your covering letter for a graduate job, read it forwards and read it backwards. No joke. You’re more likely to spot a spelling mistake if you read word by word back from the end. If not, get someone else to proofread your letter for you.

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