In contrast to other countries such as Denmark, cover letters in the UK are very much focused on what you have to offer, rather than what attracts you to the company. Cover letters in the UK are an opportunity to sell yourself and your abilities and should describe how you meet the job requirements.  These should be no longer than one page and should work to let employers know how you stand out from the competition. You should always include a cover letter as it is your opportunity to explain the content of your CV.

Your cover letter should always be targeted to the particular job and shouldn’t just repeat the information that you have on your CV. Try thinking about your CV as the ‘facts’ of your experience and the cover letter as the story behind them. Cover letters are your opportunity to make a persuasive case as to why employers should hire you - and not anyone else. Therefore it’s important to explain exactly how your experience and skills match the job role.

Style and tone

Include whatever makes you stand out from the crowd and be confident in presenting yourself. Cover letters work best if they provide evidence which backs up exactly why you are so brilliant, so try to include some examples of where you have done well either in your previous employment or education.

It’s also important to highlight why you want to apply for this particular job and work for this particular company. This is an opportunity to demonstrate that you have done your research and know exactly what drives the company and where it positions itself in the marketplace. Try to explain why the job is an attractive one for you, and how you think you could contribute to the company’s goals and strategy.

The style of the cover letter should suit the job role and the working culture of the company. If it is a very formal and hierarchical company use a formal tone of voice and phrases such as “I’m writing with reference to the advertised role of Marketing Assistant”, “please accept my application for the role and find my CV enclosed” or “thank you for taking the time to review my application and I look forward to hearing from you”.  

You should use a formal letter layout where your address, contact details, and the date are aligned on the right-hand side. There should be a title in the centre which features the job you are applying for, e.g. “Re: Marketing Assistant Position”. Even when the cover letter is very formal it should still fit onto one side of A4 and shouldn’t exceed 3-4 paragraphs.

If the company is more informal or in a creative industry try to get creative with your letter. Make it entertaining and engaging but don’t put anything too off the wall in there - it should still be professional. In this case, you might want to use a different format such as bullet points which link the job requirements with your skills, or a short numbered list of your greatest achievements.

Addressing the hiring manager

If you know the name of the person who will be checking the application, address your cover letter directly to them. This is likely to be appreciated by the person reviewing your application and helps to make your cover letter seem more personal. If you're applying for a job in a very formal company it’s common practice to address people by their titles on your cover letter e.g." Dear Mr/Mrs/Miss/Ms Smith".

However, like many countries, titles in the UK are behind the times as there isn't a commonly used form of address for  women who don’t want to reveal their marital status. Although some people use Ms instead of Mrs or Miss this isn't universally popular so it’s probably safer to use the interviewer's first and second names together if you aren't 100% sure e.g. "Dear Emma Watkins". This way you will avoid irritating the person reading your application by getting it wrong.

This is also fine to use if you feel like it’s a bit stuffy to write a title or if you aren’t sure of the person’s gender; some popular names in the UK are unisex. If you don’t know the name of the hiring manager it’s perfectly OK to write “To whom it may concern” or alternatively you can address the letter to the company itself, e.g. "Dear Graduateland". Always finish your cover letter with “Yours sincerely” followed by your full name.