5. Cover letters responding to adverts

The key difference with writing these cover letters is that you will have much more indication of what the employer is looking for and be able to tailor your letter according to their criteria.  However, it does usually mean that competition is fierce and yours needs to stand out to gain the best chance of gaining an interview.

5.1 - Responding to the right jobs

Do not waste yours or the recruiter’s time in applying to every single job advertised and approaching it as a numbers game by sending out 100’s of inappropriate applications. It is very important to take into account the criteria outlined in the advert and use that as your base to compose an eye-catching letter. Even if you are looking for a career move or planning to change careers, if you can justify your ability to do the job based on your transferable skills, this would be acceptable to some recruiters.  However, if you are a secretary that has always dreamt of being a TV presenter and apply for such roles based on the fact that you love TV and have an outgoing personality, you will not get very far in your chosen career!

5.2 - Understanding the job role

Some adverts are quite poorly written and do not give much away. There could be variety of reasons why this is the case i.e. they have not had input from HR and it has been written by the recruiting manager; or they are a small company that do not have much advertising space to write much about the role itself.

If the role advertised does not have a job specification or minimal information, always seek to find out as much as you can by phoning the company and asking if they have one or at least try to ascertain as much information about the role through a brief conversation with relevant person. If you are phoning, ensure that you have a pen and paper handy to take notes as you are talking because you should use these notes to form your cover letter and tweak your CV. 

If you do have a comprehensive job specification, go through it thoroughly, writing notes against it of how you match their criteria.  Some will have an ‘Essential’ and ‘Desirable’ section which will further help you to compose your letter in addressing the most important elements of the role.

If the job is advertised through a recruitment agency, they should be able to provide you with a full job specification or be able to give you this level of detail as it is in their interest to seek as much information about the role from the employer in order find ideal candidates.  Generally, when applying for roles through recruitment agencies, try to send it to a named person whom you can follow up with a phone call as they can get inundated with CVs so after all your effort, you do not want your email to get lost in cyberspace or remain unopened in a recruitment consultant’s Inbox!

5.3 - Researching the organisation

Do take the time to research the organisation you are applying for to discover whether they are the right company for you but to also incorporate your research into your cover letter which demonstrates to the recruiter how well you could fit in to their organization.

You should ask yourself some of the following questions:-

  • How do I feel about their corporate ethos/mission/value statements?
  • Would I fit into the culture of the organisation?
  • Do they offer the career progression I am seeking?
  • What might be external relevant issues affecting the organisation?
  • What type of people do they generally employ?
  • What else are they offering?

Again, as with sending speculative letters, research them in the same way by looking at their website, trade journals and the internet to find out as much as you can about them and use that information to incorporate in your cover letter to demonstrate you have spent time and effort in finding out about them which will, no doubt, create a greater impact.

5.4 - The first paragraph

The best way to approach this is to give some thought to how the recruiter is going to pick out its top candidates whom they would like to interview based on the evidence they have on paper. For some of the more common roles, i.e. general administration, the recruiter might be faced with an arduous task of having to go through hundreds of CVs, some of which may be quite good so to really stand out, you need to think about what makes yours excellent.

To begin with, create a bold subject line (using either a bold font or capitals) stating the job role and/or a reference number if they have quoted one in the advert. Quite often a recruiter will be advertising for more than one role, so you want your application to be immediately clear as to which role you would like to be considered.

Although it may seem more difficult to find a novel way to write this first paragraph without stating the obvious, you still need to be creative in making it punchy as a recruiter facing a pile of applications will often skim-read a cover letter so you want to make sure you have something of interest to say in the first couple of sentences.

Weak opening paragraph:
Having seen your advert in The Careers Gazette for a Field Engineer, I am enclosing my CV for your interest.

Good opening paragraph:
Having seen your advert for a Field Engineer, I am writing to outline my significant experience in this field. I am confident I possess the necessary skills, qualifications and specific industry background to make a major contribution to your organisation.

5.5 - The middle paragraphs

Keep it relevant – clearly understand what the job specification is requesting from you and reflect that back in your cover letter without it being too obvious by merely repeating that you have the skills they are requesting.

As you will have a much more specific idea about the essential criteria of the job than writing a speculative letter, ensure that you use this information to build a picture of yourself that aligns with the job role, i.e. if the role states that they are looking for someone to expand a customer base as one of the most important aspects of the job, do not base your key skills on that fact that you great at multi-tasking and organising events!

It should be quite apparent as to the key skills they are looking for in the ideal candidate, therefore you should compose your letter in a way which brings attention to their key skills first and foremost.  Using the example above, it would be most useful to start with an example of how you have increased your customer base and the impact to the organisation so that you are instantly appealing to their needs and will have immediately caught their attention.

To add credence to your letter, you will need to give some good, clear examples of how you meet their criteria, merely mentioning the fact that you have excellent interpersonal skills is not sufficient unless you can put it in to context as to how that has benefitted you and the organisation, i.e. building successful relationships which led to expanding the client base. 

Finally, do ensure you emphasize why in particular you want to work for that organisation by including some of your research in your letter. Even though they have advertised the role which you may think is enough of a reason in itself to apply, it will still impress them as it demonstrates further enthusiasm for wanting to work for them specifically.

Weak set of middle paragraphs:

I have excellent interpersonal and communication skills which I think would be beneficial in the role.  I also have 15 years’ experience of teaching within schools, working with children across all age groups besides myself being a mother of three.

I also get on very well with other members of staff and am a helpful team member and always try to encourage and support my colleagues.

I am now looking for a role which can provide me with ongoing learning and development and career progression.

Good set of middle paragraphs:

I am very well qualified and would be an asset to the school because of my 15 years’ experience working as a teaching assistant for primary and secondary schools. During this time, I have always maintained an enthusiastic approach in working with all teachers to develop a curriculum that meets the needs of students. I enjoy tutoring students and helping them build confidence in their ability to achieve, both academically and socially.

In addition, my BA in Fine Arts has been an asset in developing the arts within the schools and in my most recent role, the increase of GCSE Art pass rates (from grades A-C) increased by an overall 40% in the last two years.

I would be very keen to contribute to your school based on its continually outstanding OFSTED reports and as I understand that your school has just been awarded significant funding towards developing its Arts & Culture programme, I am confident that the skills and experience I can offer could contribute to the school’s ongoing success.

5.6 - The final paragraph

You should end your letter assuming that you will get an interview from them so be confident with this by mentioning your availability.

In addition, some job adverts will ask you to include salary requirements which may request your current or expected salary. Although this can feel awkward to have to deal with, it does need to be addressed as the recruiter is asking you for a reason and it would be a waste of time for everyone if you were to give a fantastic performance at interview and they make you an offer only to be turned down as you want £10,000 more than they are willing to pay!

If they have asked you for your current salary, you should answer truthfully – it is also a good idea to make the point that money is not your only motivator unless of course, you are applying for a role which is mainly commission-based such as a sales job.

If you have been asked to state your expected salary, without being too specific you need to decide what the minimum is that you would accept and give a range that is reasonable depending on the current market and your own market value. The best way to do this would be to carry out some research so that you can give a realistic and acceptable response. Do bear in mind that whilst some salaries are fixed, quite often there is a salary range which allows for some negotiation so do not undersell yourself too quickly - a good starting point would be to go in a little higher than what you think you are worth so that you have a decent salary to negotiate with in the first instance should they offer you the job. When you do reach the stage of finalising your salary, you should also consider all the other benefits the company may provide.

5.7 - Follow-up letters and phone-calls

It is always a good idea to follow-up on letters approximately two weeks after first sending it if you have not heard anything. Whether you sent it by post or email, there could be the possibility that it has got lost somewhere en route and after all your effort, it would be a great shame to miss out on a potential role due to postal delays or errors.

It can also help to remind the recruiter of who you are which could be quite useful if they have received hundreds of applications and have not yet had the opportunity to get back to all of those who have applied. If you do have a phone number to ring, that could provide you with a brief opportunity to have a chat which is an excellent way to stand out from others as long as you are prepared that they may ask you a couple of questions about your experience which you then, must be prepared to answer on the spot!


I recently submitted my CV for the role of Senior Project Manager and as I have not yet had a response to my application, I am writing to confirm whether you have received it. I would like to express that I remain interested in the position and can be contacted on 01234 555 666.