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The University of Southampton
Careers, Employability and Student Enterprise

Covering Letter Advice

student writing cover letter

When sending a CV or completing an application form, it may be necessary to submit a covering letter.  This is both an introduction to your application and a personal sales pitch.

Use it as an opportunity to outline your interest in the vacancy and the organisation, expanding on the skills you stated in your CV as well as the abilities, knowledge and enthusiasm which you believe make you the ideal candidate for the opportunity being offered. 

The covering letter is also an opportunity for you to explain anything in your CV that an employer may question or that you feel it would be helpful for them to know at this stage. For example, supporting reasons for low grades, why you have changed course, taken time out, or if you choose to declare a disability.

Further help and support is available in our CVs and Covering Letters Guide. You can also watch the online version of our Discover...Covering Letters workshop below, which advises on how to successfully structure a cover letter as well as outlining the basic content which should be included.

Covering letter workshop front page

Video support (10 minutes approx.)

We've created an online version of our Discover...Covering Letters workshop which provides the key principles for writing a cover letter with impact.

View it here

In the majority of cases, when applying for an opportunity you should include a covering letter, whether for a graduate job, part-time job, internship, volunteering position or a course. This is especially important if you are making a speculative application.

As with CVs and applications, each covering letter needs to be targeted to the individual opportunity. Emphasise the particular skills the organisation is asking for and your reasons for wanting to work for them.  Avoid generic statements that could apply to many companies or roles.

Writing a speculative covering letter

A good percentage of opportunities are never formally advertised. One way to access these hidden opportunities is to make a speculative application. This can be a highly effective way of getting a graduate job or work experience, particularly for careers which are difficult to get into such as publishing, advertising, charity work and broadcasting. A speculative approach can also be successful with smaller employers who do not have regular vacancies. A good, targeted application can save any organisation time and money.

Much of the content is similar to a standard covering letter, however, you also need to explain why you are writing to the company and what you are looking for. For example, writing to enquire whether there are any opportunities for work experience.

Here are some additional tips:

  • Write to an appropriate person – for example, the head of the division you would like to work for
  • Try to find out the name of the person you should write to
  • As with a covering letter for an advertised vacancy, speculative covering letters must also be tailored to the company

Emailing a covering letter

If you are emailing your covering letter, don’t simply put ‘please see attached’ in the body of the email and leave it at that. In the subject field, you should explain the purpose of the email, for example, ‘Work experience enquiry – History student, The University of Southampton’. Within the body of the email, include some brief text that outlines some of the key content within your CV and covering letter – for example, key skills and experience you have to offer. The objective is to make the employer curious to find out more about you.

Generally, it is better to include the covering letter as an attached named document rather than in the body of an email. Finally, always use a professional email address and include your full name and contact details at the end of the email.

Our CV and Covering Letters Guide provides you with advice and guidance on how to format your covering letter. The key points are:

  • No more than one side of A4
  • Preferably addressed to a named person (if you know the person’s name, address the recruiter formally (e.g. "Dear Mr/Ms. Smith") and finish “Yours sincerely”. If you are unable to get this, start your letter with “Dear Sir/Madam” and finish with “Yours faithfully”
  • Written in a formal business style
  • Well laid out and easy to follow: the structure should be clear, with a beginning, middle and end, and with each paragraph having a theme
  • Typed or written on good quality paper if sending by post
  • Proof read your covering letter and make sure that you check for any spelling or grammatical errors

To see an example see pages 22-23 of our CV and Covering Letters Guide

For more information about covering letters, see our CV and Covering Letters Guide. Resources including hard copies of this guide and a range of books relating to covering letters are available from the Hartley Library on Highfield Campus, Winchester School of Art Library, the National Oceanographic Library and the Health Services Library at Southampton General Hospital.  A range of e-books are also available via our website. has some handy tips about covering letters.

If you would like to discuss your covering letter with an adviser you can book an Ask the Adviser appointment.

Disclosing personal information

The covering letter can be an opportunity to share information with the employer that would be helpful for them to take into consideration, for example, if you are applying to an employer who is strict about A-level results which you do not quite meet, but you have a good supporting reason why your marks were low (e.g. a previous serious illness).

If you are unsure about whether to disclose personal information, you can discuss it with a member of the Careers and Employability team through our Ask the Adviser Service.

Disability/health issue

Deciding whether to disclose a disability or health issue at the application stage is normally a matter of personal choice. There may be instances where it is helpful to mention a disability, for example, if you require any reasonable adjustments to be made, such as if wheelchair access is required.

You may also find our section on Equality and Diversity helpful to refer to; it details further specific support and advice.


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