What's a cover letter and when should you send one?

Send a cover letter when you apply for a job with a CV. You should write it as a formal letter, and attach it to the email along with your CV. A strong cover letter can help a weaker CV to shine.

Aim to write half a page unless you're asked to do more. Cover everything that’s relevant, but keep the recruiter interested.

Present yourself positively

Disabled people face discrimination in the job market. A short, powerful cover letter is one of the best tools to dispel any concerns that the employer may have. Be honest, do your research and take your time.
Use your cover letter to show your best self and to tell your story. You should include:
  • who you are and what you can do for the company
  • how you can do the job
  • how you fit into the organisation.
Describe the journey that you took to get to this point. Tell the recruiter why you're the right person for this job and how you're ready to step into it.

Describe who you are and what you can do for the company

Research the company and role. Make sure you can answer these questions:
  • What does the company do?
  • What does the role involve?
  • What essential skills do they want and which ones do you have?
Being interested in and knowing about the company and role will help you to write a strong cover letter. It will also help if you get an interview.

Tell them how you can do the job

Use specific examples from past relevant employment if you have them. Link these directly to the job you are applying for. If you have less or no experience, use examples of skills from outside of paid work.

Start by making a list of skills you can choose from. Present your skills positively, but be truthful and try not to exaggerate.

Choose skills that you think are most relevant to the job you’re applying for. When you mention a skill in your cover letter, add some detail and context that will explain why you are a good candidate. For example: Can you use Photoshop? What can you do with it? When did you use it? What did you do with it? It’s fine to use an example from outside of paid work if that’s the best way for you to prove that you have a particular skill.

Here are some examples.

Retail

Skill Example
Using a till Using a till volunteering at a charity shop
Customer service Charity fundraising, selling poppies for Remembrance Day, reception work
Stock rotation and control Managing a kitchen – your own or someone else’s. Recording what food you’ve got in and using it before best before dates.


IT for clerical and administrative work

Skill Example
Word, emails, calendar School work, life planning, using iCal or Google Calendar on your phone
Using websites and online forms Any time you’ve engaged with online services. This could with the Council, government agencies, school or college work.
Excel Shopping lists, home budgeting


Paper-based admin

Skill Example
Filing Organising anything alphabetically, for example by surname.


Domestic work

Skill Example
Childcare Babysitting, childminding (not your own children!)
Cleaning Managing your own household, gardening.


Interpersonal skills

Skill Example
Communication skills Any time you’ve had to listen closely and speak clearly face to face or on the phone. This could be talking to people in shops, family members, support workers.
Building and maintaining relationships Talking to your child’s teachers, support or care workers and neighbours. Also, being able to make new friends.


Managing people and delegating work

Skill Example
Helping to organise any kind of community event. Helping to organise decorations for a street party.


Focus on what you can do – don’t talk about what you can’t do

This can mean presenting information in a positive way, or just leaving out things if they're not relevant.
Negative Positive
At present I do not feel able to offer 40 hours per week but I would be able to work up to 18 hours per week and would welcome the opportunity to learn and to show what I can do. I will be able to work up to 18 hours per week and live  locally so could also accept a work placement.


If you've recently become disabled

Focus on what the employer wants now, and what you can do now. Your CV will cover what you’ve done in the past, but your cover letter is your living story.

Formatting

Your cover letter should be concise and well-presented. Use clear paragraphs written in a clear easy-to-read font such as Arial. Don't use multiple colours, pictures or Word art.

Language

Be formal but natural when writing your letter. Imagine that you're speaking to your grandmother or a teacher. Don't just copy and paste someone else's cover letter from Google. It won't be your story and employers can tell.

Structure

Addressing your cover letter

Address your letter to the person who is managing applications. This information might be in the job advert. If it isn't, don't be afraid to find out by tracking it down on the company website or LinkedIn. If you can't find it, just call and ask. You'll be able to address your letter properly, and show that you're really interested in the role.
If you find a name, start the letter with 'Dear Mrs Smith/Dear Mr Smith'. Otherwise, 'Dear Sir/Madam' is fine.

First paragraph: State why you are getting in touch

As well as saying why you're getting in touch, it's also good to mention where you found out about the job. For example, say "as advertised on reed.co.uk" or mention someone's name if they referred you. Include the job reference number if there is one.

Second paragraph: Say why you are suitable for the job

Briefly describe your professional and academic qualifications that are relevant to the role. Cover each of the skills listed in the job description.

Third paragraph: Tell them what you can do for them

Write about what you can do for the company. Talk about your career goals and make these relevant to the position you're applying for. Expand on relevant bits of your CV and provide examples that prove you have the skills that they need.

Fourth paragraph: Sum up why you’re the right person for the job

Summarise why you're interested in the role, and why you would be the right fit and why meeting in person.
Finish by saying that you'd like to meet with employer for an interview.

Signing off your cover letter

Use "Yours sincerely" if you know the name of the hiring manager, or "Yours faithfully" if you don't. Follow this with your full name. You may also wish to include your email address and phone number just below this.

Need employment advice?

Support for disabled people looking for a job, online, by phone, Skype or text message.

Employment information supported by Virgin Media

Virgin Media
We're working with Virgin Media to support 1 million disabled people in getting into and staying in work by the end of 2020.