Updated: Mar 9
The cover letter below is a standardised version of the work experience template letter that I used to get 25 different work experience and work shadowing placements. First though, I'm going to break it down paragraph by paragraph, explaining what needs to go where and why.
Knowing how to sell yourself well in only 200-300 words is an employability art form that takes practice before it is perfected. No matter which stage of your career you are at, it is worth spending time honing this specific skill; nail it and doors will open for you.
Cover Letter Template
Paragraph 1: Why are you writing
Keep this as short as possible, preferably one sentence, or two at a maximum. This is your opportunity to grab your reader’s attention. This first paragraph needs to tell them who you are, why you are writing and more implicitly, why they should keep reading – it needs to tell a very short story and this is the hook.
Having an email subject that states your request for work experience puts the why you are writing front and centre. It’s your written elevator pitch and it’s worth running it past trusted mentors or work friends. If you are making a career change, say so.
Paragraph 2: Why they should listen to you – credibility
Briefly outline any formal experience and/or qualifications. You don't need to spend much time going into all of your educational and employment history, just include the highlights in one or two sentences.
These don’t need to necessarily be directly relevant if you are trying to make a career change – as you can see with my example. It’s more to show that you are at least a reasonably intelligent person who should be taken seriously.
If you don’t want to shout about your previous experience or qualifications, then focus on transferable skills like teamwork, written communication or analytical skills.
Paragraph 3: Motivation
Explain why you are interested in that career and why you are contacting the individual or company in particular. Research, personalisation and motivation are all crucial when writing this short section, so you will need to edit this for every single email you send, even if just by half a sentence.
Be as specific as you can with personalising each email, it needs to sound like they are the only company for you. If you are stuck on something to focus on, try looking at the company blog, values page or social media for some inspiration. Again, this section should be no more than two or three sentences.
Also, include when you would be looking for work experience and for how long here, but you can add this in wherever it most naturally fits.
Paragraph 4: What you have to offer
Whether it's transferable skills from that project you did at university, or your deep understanding of using social media to engage an audience, be sure to show what you can bring to the table in the time you are with the company.
We all have our own unique selling point and you need to use yours to your advantage. Think what the person you’re contacting might have need of that you could offer.
Sample Cover Letter: Landscape Gardening (Career 16)
Subject: Work Experience Request - 25before25
Last September I launched an innovative project to try 25 careers over the course of a year through short term work experience, with the aim of promoting career fulfilment and advocating for more diverse career education for young people, I would love the opportunity to work with you as part of the project.
In terms of my background, [insert key points from education and career].
I am a keen gardener and would love the chance to explore this interest in a more professional setting. Having looked through your website, I find your designs inspirational, I especially love xxx about xxx. I would be very grateful for the opportunity to work with you or to shadow someone within your organisation for a week in July to learn more about what's involved in garden and landscape design on a day-to-day basis.
What I can offer in return, is writing up my experiences on my website and social media channels, to help inspire young people to consider this as a career path, as well as to promote your business. My website has had 40,000+ visitors since launching and has featured in The Telegraph, BBC and the Financial Times, among other publications.
Please let me know if this is something you might be interested in?
I look forward to hearing from you soon.
[mobile phone number]
Keep reading for Part 2, all about who you should send your work experience letter to and how many companies or organisations you could contact, along with lots of other hints and tips
If you found this article helpful, check out my book here for lots more advice (and a few adventures!). The Radical Sabbatical is a bestselling career guide that was named the Financial Times Business book of the month 🎉