by Michael Cheary
So you’ve just spent three years or more completing your degree…
You spend hours perfecting your graduate CV, but how long do you spend writing the accompanying cover letter? The honest answer for many, unfortunately, is not long enough.
Teaming your shiny new CV with a half-hearted attempt at writing a cover letter (or worse, not including one at all) could count against you more than you anticipate.
A cover letter is often the first thing a hiring manager looks at so it’s crucial to get it right. As well as letting your personality shine, it’s also an opportunity to stand out from all the other graduate applicants. And remember, first impressions count.
We’ve already covered how to write a cover letter, but if you’re still feeling frustrated when it comes to the finer details, here’s our cover letter template specifically designed for recent graduates:
Just here for the template? Click the link below:
Download Graduate Cover Letter Template
Opening the letter
The opening paragraph should be short, informative and to the point. Explain what job it is you’re applying for, and where you found the vacancy.
Feel free to mention the website by name (e.g. as advertised on reed.co.uk) or, if someone referred you to the contact, mention their name in this section.
I wish to apply for the role of Graduate Commercial Analyst, currently being advertised on reed.co.uk. Please find enclosed my CV for your consideration.
Second paragraph – Why are you suitable for the job?
Briefly describe your professional and academic qualifications that are relevant to the role and ensure you refer to some of the skills listed in the job description.
Stating your degree classification and the name of your university is optional, but will help to build a more comprehensive background for the reader. And, if any specific qualifications have been mentioned as pre-requisites, stating this now will help confirm your credentials.
As you can see from my attached CV, I have recently completed a three year degree in Economics at Loughborough University, attaining a 2:1, and I believe the knowledge and skills built up during this time make me the perfect candidate for the role.
Third/Fourth paragraph – What can you do for them?
Use practical examples to emphasise what you can do for the company. These might be performance based (if you have some relevant work experience), but will most likely be focussed on your academic career.
Always make sure your examples are as specific and pertinent as possible. If you’ve completed particular modules which may be applicable, this is the point to include them.
It’s also a good place to include any extra-curricular studies or activities which are applicable to the position, or which help reinforce your skills. Examples could be particular books you’ve read around the subject, seminars you’ve attended, or any qualifications undertaken which are outside your degree.
Other examples include outlining your dissertation (e.g. ‘achieved a first class distinction grade in my dissertation on x’), or more quantifiable achievements you may have attained whilst in previous employment or during work experience (e.g. ‘Increased revenue by x%’, ‘drove x% more traffic to the website during my time in employment’, ‘an increase in students grades by x’ etc.)
The position particularly interests me because of my passion for Analytics. During my course, I studied topics such as Econometrics, Accounting & Finance and International Economics, and the mathematical and modelling skills learned from these modules have given me an excellent foundation for building a career as a Commercial Analyst.
Aside from my degree, I have built upon my interest in this field in a number of ways. Recently I have completed my dissertation on architectures for data-intensive analytics, which allowed me to put my theory for the subject into practice. Further, I have also started an online analytics course, which has given me a much more rounded view on the subject.
Fifth paragraph – Reiterate
Here’s where you reiterate your interest in the role and why you would be the right fit for the company.
I am confident that I can bring this level of expertise with me to your organisation and help Online Retail Company LTD build upon their reputation as one of the biggest brand names in the UK. Add to this my passion and enthusiasm for analytics, and I believe my contribution will have an immediate impact on the business.
Closing the letter
Thank the employer for their time. It is also a good opportunity to indicate you’d like to meet with the employer for an interview.
Sign off your cover letter with ‘Yours sincerely’ (if you know the name of the hiring manager)/’Yours faithfully’ (if you do not), and your name.
Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to meeting with you to discuss my application further.
Remember: Just as with our standard free cover letter template, this is a template, not a ready-made cover letter. Without the proper research into the company advertising the vacancy, and without tailoring it to the role, it will lack the impact for which a cover letter can drastically improve your chances of reaching the interview stage.
And these words hold even more importance when it comes to graduate jobs. Putting the time and effort in to each one will pay dividends, so keep at it. The more research you do and the better written it is, the greater your chance of standing out from the graduate crowd and setting yourself apart.
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Many IT employers, including Alfa, ARM and ThoughtWorks, request a covering letter along with a CV as part of the online application form. This is an additional opportunity for you to showcase your skills and enthusiasm, as well as highlight specific points that may not come through on your CV.
A covering letter (or cover letter, as it’s more commonly known in the USA) is not always requested, however, so if an employer doesn’t ask for one don’t include it. For most graduate roles in IT, your covering letter shouldn’t be longer than one side of A4. See our example one-page IT covering letter for tips on structure and content.
This is what you should do to sell your experience and skills, and convince the recruiter that you really want the job in a few paragraphs:
Thoroughly research the employer
Before you start writing your covering letter, spend a good amount of time reading up on the company you’re applying to. You should research its business strategy, culture, company values, and familiarise yourself with the list of products and services it provides. You can do this by looking at the employer’s website and the employer hubs on TARGETjobs. It would also be a good idea to reflect on relevant work experience, presentations you’ve attended, conversations you’ve had with employees and recruiters on insight days, or to speak with friends who have done a placement there.
Be selective and don’t cram
It may be tempting to fill your covering letter with all your technical skills, achievements and examples from university, work and elsewhere. Don’t do this as your covering letter should not exceed one page or three to four paragraphs. Be selective about which information you choose to include. Pinpoint the top three or four attributes that the employer seeks. For example, these could be a genuine interest in technology, practical knowledge of databases and programming, and excellent communication skills. Then focus your covering letter around these requirements.
Include examples from your academic work, personal life and any work experience to prove to recruiters that you have the skills, qualities and experience they’re looking for. If they seek a graduate who’s interested in pioneering technology, for example, and you attend fairs and conferences to find out what’s new in the tech space and blog about it, mention that. Or perhaps you have examples of when you have done a job well or solved a problem in a smart or new way. Your interests and activities outside work are also useful indicators of how well you will fit into a team.
Explain why you have chosen that particular employer
Remember to include the reasons why you have chosen this specific employer – and avoid clichés, such as ‘you are a world-leading company’. Your employer research is critical here, as you will be able to make specific points about the company’s culture, strategy, or any opportunities for career progression. For example, perhaps the organisation appeals to you because it constantly works on cutting edge developments and this will enable you to apply and increase your technical skills. Including this will show recruiters that you want to join the company as opposed to just getting a job.
Ask someone to review your covering letter
Once you have written your covering letter you should ask a friend, family member, or member of staff from your careers service to check it for sense, style and grammatical mistakes. Covering letters with many errors leave a bad impression and will cast doubt over your attention to detail and professionalism.
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