The first thing a potential employer sees in your job application is the cover letter. This doesn't just support your CV – it's an opportunity for you to stand out from the crowd and persuade the recruiter to put you through to the next round.
Be wary of spending hours on perfecting your CV at the expense of your cover letter. If you need some inspiration on what to include and what format to use, here are our helpful guides – just remember not to copy them as exact templates.
1. Standard, conservative style
This is ideal for sectors such as business, law, accountancy and retail. For more creative sectors, a letter like this might be less appealing, and could work against you.
Dear Mr Black,
Please find enclosed my CV in application for the post advertised in the Guardian on 30 November.
The nature of my degree course has prepared me for this position. It involved a great deal of independent research, requiring initiative, self-motivation and a wide range of skills. For one course, [insert course], an understanding of the [insert sector] industry was essential. I found this subject very stimulating.
I am a fast and accurate writer, with a keen eye for detail and I should be very grateful for the opportunity to progress to market reporting. I am able to take on the responsibility of this position immediately, and have the enthusiasm and determination to ensure that I make a success of it.
Thank you for taking the time to consider this application and I look forward to hearing from you in the near future.
2. Standard speculative letter
This may vary according to the nature of the organisation and the industry you're applying to.
Dear Mr Brown,
I am writing to enquire if you have any vacancies in your company. I enclose my CV for your information.
As you can see, I have had extensive vacation work experience in office environments, the retail sector and service industries, giving me varied skills and the ability to work with many different types of people. I believe I could fit easily into your team.
I am a conscientious person who works hard and pays attention to detail. I'm flexible, quick to pick up new skills and eager to learn from others. I also have lots of ideas and enthusiasm. I'm keen to work for a company with a great reputation and high profile like [insert company name].
I have excellent references and would be delighted to discuss any possible vacancy with you at your convenience. In case you do not have any suitable openings at the moment, I would be grateful if you would keep my CV on file for any future possibilities.
3. Letter for creative jobs
We've used the example of a copywriter but you can adapt it for your profession. The aim of a creative letter is to be original and show you have imagination, but understand what the job entails. Balance is essential: don't be too wacky, or it will turn off the reader.
Dear Ms Green,
· Confused by commas?
· Puzzled by parenthesis?
· Stumped by spelling?
· Perturbed by punctuation?
· Annoyed at the apostrophe? (And alliteration?)
Well, you're not alone. It seems that fewer and fewer people can write. Unfortunately, there are still a lot of people who can read. So they'll spot a gaffe from a mile off. And that means it's a false economy, unless you're 100% sure of yourself, to write your own materials. (Or to let clients do it for themselves.)
To have materials properly copywritten is, when one considers the whole process of publishing materials and the impact that the client wishes to make, a minor expense. Sloppiness loses clients, loses customers.
There is an answer. Me. Firm quotes are free. You can see some of what I do on my multilingual website at [insert web address]. If you'd like, I can get some samples out to you within 24 hours. And, if you use me, you'll have some sort of guarantee that you can sleep soundly as those tens of thousands of copies are rolling off the presses.
Luck shouldn't come into it!
With kindest regards
Other helpful resources
•How to write a perfect CV and cover letter
•Applying for jobs without experience? How to build and sell your skills
•Five steps to the perfect graduate CV
•School-leavers and graduates: how to write your first CV
•How to write a personal statement for your CV
•CV templates to fit every stage of your career
Looking for a job? Browse Guardian Jobs or sign up to Guardian Careers for the latest job vacancies and career advice
by Michael Cheary
How do you get a job without a job advert? It’s all speculative…
Unfortunately, some vacancies won’t always be advertised online. But instead of getting discouraged when your perfect position isn’t on offer, there is another way to stand out to recruiters and find a job with a company you love.
We’ve already covered what cover letters are, but here’s our guide to speculative cover letters (just in case):
What is a speculative cover letter?
A speculative cover letter is sent alongside your CV when you apply to a company that isn’t currently advertising for staff.
Rather than being written with a particular position in mind, they’re usually more tailored to the company – selling your skills, experience and potential should any potential vacancies arise.
What should a speculative cover letter include?
OK, so the specifics of what to include will vary depending on the job you’re applying for. Not to mention where you currently are in your career.
However, the format will be fairly similar to a standard cover letter:
- Start with your personal information (e.g. name, address and contact details – never include a national insurance number or bank details).
- Include a manager’s name (if you have it)
- Dear Sir/Madam (if you don’t have a name)
- A first main paragraph outlining what kind of role you’re looking for, and why you want to work for the company
- A second paragraph explaining a bit more about your own skills and background
- A closing paragraph to sum up why you’d be a great fit for the company, and how they could benefit from hiring you
- A thank you for their time, and a professional sign-off (e.g. ‘Yours faithfully’)
Why should I send one?
Companies may not always advertise their available roles, for a variety of different reasons.
It could be that they’ve only just come up, or that they have to wait for internal applicants before putting the job out there. They might just not have any current vacancies on offer.
However, by sending a speculative application, you can demonstrate that you’re proactive and ahead of the game when it comes to your career. And even if they don’t have any roles at the moment, you’ll ensure you’re front-of-mind if a suitable positon does come up.
Because the company might need you – even if they don’t know it yet.
How does it differ from my CV?
Cover letters are important for all applications, but they take on even more importance for speculative ones.
CVs tend to be rigid, professional and impersonal. In contrast, your cover letter allows you to create a rapport with the reader and showcase how right you are for the company in a much more engaging way.
And, without a specific job to apply for, you need to work even harder to stand out. A well-written cover letter will talk about your skills, previous projects and selling points, and help keep you keep front of mind if any suitable jobs do come up.
How long should it be?
Just over half a page of A4 – and no longer.
It should outline why you’re a great potential hire, and what makes you a great fit for the company. It should not be War and Peace.
Should I include some research about the company?
Let’s face it, recruiters are as prone to flattery as anyone else. By explaining why you want to work for their company, without even knowing if there are any roles available, you instantly demonstrate that you buy in to their product or company culture.
A few well-researched facts could be all it takes to back your interest up, not to mention show your dedication to the business before you’ve even joined.
How do I send a speculative application?
Firstly, try and find the appropriate person to address it to (e.g. the hiring manager, or a member of the HR team).
If you can find their email address, great. You can send it to general addresses, but it’s likely to get lost in the sea of other emails – so make sure it has a killer subject line.
Alternatively you can post the application, if you have the company’s address.
What do I do next?
Now you wait.
Usually the company will get in touch, to let you know whether they have any available positions, and if your application has been successful. However, this could take a little time to come through.
Alternatively, contacting the recruiter a few weeks after you send it is a great way to find out if they received your speculative cover letter and CV, as well as getting constructive feedback.
Remember: speculative cover letters won’t always work. But you won’t know until you try.
After all, what have you got to lose?
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