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Types of cover letters and how to write them

We have highlighted three different types of cover letters, each of which serves a different purpose, depending on your job-seeking situation.

Accompanying letter

This is the most frequently used format, so you’ll need to get to grips with how it works.

An accompanying letter is sent along with your CV or application form to an advertised vacancy. The purpose of this letter, more than any of the other formats, is to put you and your CV in the context of a specific job role.

The key is to work very closely with the person specification given in the advert. Use this information to target the content of your letter. Make sure to state the title of the position for which you are applying.

Grab the reader’s attention by expressing enthusiasm for and understanding of the role. Add personality – don’t just repeat everything that is on your CV. Pick and choose the most important qualifications and experiences and build on them in a more personal way. This is the chance to express what kind of person you are, and how you’ll fit within the company.

Top tips:

Find out as much as you can about the company, it’s important to look knowledgeable about the role and organisation. Most businesses will have a media or information centre on their website where previous press releases may be available. At the very least, their website will give you enough information. Find out more by searching for them on LinkedIn and Twitter.

You can also look for stories about the company in the general press or any specialised media. All this information will give you an edge when writing about the position.

Speculative letter

The speculative approach is, as the name suggests, a bit of a gamble.

This format is used to approach employers you would like to work for, but who haven’t advertised a position. It is more often used to find work experience, rather than permanent employment, and can be useful in furthering your job hunt generally.

The purpose of a speculative letter is to outline your skills and value in order to pitch yourself for work. If done well, this will show great initiative, which many employers will want to reward. If nothing else, it may put you on their radar for future vacancies.

As the company won’t be expecting your letter, you must be extremely clear, and state your objective for writing i.e. what type of job you want.

It is essential that you target the search to ensure that you are approaching appropriate companies. Invest time in tailoring your letter – a generic letter will get you nowhere, you need to really explain to a company how you can contribute.

Top Tips:

Research and tailoring are the priorities here, as the employer has no obligation to read your letter. More often than not, a generic letter will be ignored. Contact the company beforehand in order to find out who the letter should be addressed to.

Networking letter

A networking letter is slightly different – it is more often used to find out about opportunities, rather than to apply for a specific vacancy or company.

This format is used to contact relevant individuals who may be able to help you in your job search. They can be very helpful in building links with the professional world.

The various purposes are to ask for recommendations on how to proceed in your job search, to enquire about appropriate contacts for job opportunities and to generally ask for advice. They can also be used to follow up chance meetings with professionals you may have met at recruitment fairs and events, in order to keep in touch and reiterate your interest.

You should explain why you have chosen to make contact personally and make your reasons very clear. Bear in mind the old saying – “It’s not what you know, but who you know,” so on this basis, it’s crucial to build links. Be sure to incorporate the use of LinkedIn into your networking efforts.

Top Tips:

Start by contacting individuals you have met through work experience or employment and utilise your university contacts. Your lecturers may be able to recommend past students who are working in particular industries, or alternatively, speak to your careers service to see if they can put you in touch with any suitable professionals.

It is advisable to call the contact first to establish the facts, so that you don’t waste your time sending the letter to the wrong person. Just as with speculative letters, the more accurately tailored the letter, the more results it may yield.