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
Recruitment has gone digital. Many job applications will now require you to fill out an online cover letter, so do the same rules apply?
Essentially, in terms of writing style, length and lucidity, an online cover letter is very similar, which is why it’s a good idea to check out our ‘How to Write a Covering Letter’ article before you plough on with this article. Otherwise, the structure of an online cover letter is a whole different kettle of fish.
Essentially, online cover letters will vary depending on the website through which you are applying; on some, you’ll just be copying and pasting a pre-written cover letter into a text box, and on others you’ll be answering questions that will help you to structure your online cover letter.
In the latter case, make sure you familiarise yourself with all of the instructions relating to name and email fields, character limits and the various boxes you’ll have to fill out.
Draft it first…
Here’s the main thing to remember: online cover letters can expose a multitude of sins, so you’ll need to take your time when filling it out. Don’t write your cover letter directly into the boxes; instead, draft it in a Word document first.
This means you can easily check for mistakes, spend time making it as good as possible, and you won’t have to worry that you might lose it by accidently closing the internet browser.
E is for Effort…
Even if the website asks you to put answers into a template that will automatically rustle up a cover letter, make sure you draft your answers first, and answer the questions fully.
You should spend as much time on an online cover letter as you would do on a traditional cover letter.
If you’re copying and pasting into text boxes, make sure you check the formatting. Sometimes things like styling, bullet points or spaces can get muddled in the transfer. Therefore, once you’ve pasted in the text, go back through it to check that it still reads well.
How long should my online cover letter be?
For online cover letters, the general wisdom is that they should be that little bit shorter than normal covering letters. Why? People have less patience when reading things on a screen. Some people even say that the online cover letter shouldn’t be longer than one screen in length.
Give it some personality…
When confronted with online cover letters, applicants often forget that, no matter how impersonal the application page looks, your application will eventually be read by another human being. Yes, your online cover letter needs to be professional and formal, but you shouldn’t lose your own personal voice.
Don't read that as an excuse to insert smileys and emoticons into the text, but do try to avoid clichéd expressions and formulaic business speak. Think of different ways to structure and formulate your sentences to really show off your writing style.