It's clear that you don't just send your CV without enclosing a letter! Earlier, some applicants preferred to send a longer letter of application with lots of information, but nowadays it is considered to be better to send a short (max 1xA4 page) covering letter with your CV instead. In this you state that your CV is enclosed; your CV has all the factual information needed (personal details, education, qualifications, experience) so you don't need to repeat this information.
BUT you are "selling yourself" so your covering letter must interest the reader in your qualifications, show that you're serious and have shown this in the past. You also want your application to bring results! You need to draw attention to the valuable strengths that you have - these might remain unnoticed in a factual (chronological) CV.
A formal (business) letter layout is preferred; there are slight differences in UK and US format (punctuation, phrases, naming etc). See the layout below. Note that you don't write your name t the top of the page. "Dear Sir(s)" is a formal way of addressing the reader; however, it is better if you can find out the name of the person. In that case, use the person's title and surname. Prof and Dr are used for both men and women. Other titles include Mr for a man; Mrs (married woman), Miss (unmarried) are found, but women nowadays use Ms (it gets round the problem of marital status). In UK, if you use the name (e.g. Mr Smith), you usually close with "Yours sincerely,".
Your Phone number
(Your email address)
Name of person receiving letter
Name of company/institution
Name of department
Dear Sir, (UK)
Dear Madam, (UK)
Dear Sirs: (US)
BODY OF LETTER
Yours faithfully, (UK)
Clarification of name
The letter is made up of 6 parts:
I Identify the source of the information
(Explain how and where you learned of the position)
II Apply for the position
(State desire for consideration)
(A) Direct strategy: I apply for this position
(B) Indirect strategy: I would be a good candidate
III Provide supporting arguments for the job application
(Describe your qualifications, personal and professional.
Describe reasons for application.
Describe benfits to you and/or the prospective employer)
IV Indicate desire for an interview
V Specify means of further communication
(Indicate how you can be contacted or when you will contact the prospective employer)
VI Express politeness (pleasantries) or appreciation
Source: Prof Ulla Connor: talk on her "Contrastive Study of Letters of Job Application: Finnish, Flemish, and USA" given in Turku, 1994.
In the study cited above, European and US differences could be observed. A sample letter from the study illustrated how Flemish (European) letters tend to be much shorter in length (3 paragraphs, 3 sentences in all) with parts I and II combined in the first paragraph, a very short third paragraph (part III) finishing on a short sentence (IV) with no parts V and VI. The bare minimum with no selling!!
By contrast, one of the American sample letters in the study showed how very much more developed American letters are. In the introductory paragraph (I and II) the writer mentioned a professor by name who provided him with the job description. Interest in the job was expressed with reasons for the application (indirect strategy). The third part consisted of two paragraphs. The writer drew the reader's attention to the enclosed resume (shorter CV) and described in detail the tasks, duties and responsibilities he had had in his past experience. Special personal interest in aspects of the job was described. Parts IV and V were combined with telephone numbers and times of day when the writer could be contacted. The writer then politely thanked the reader for his review of the application. A more infomal, personal and longer letter!
Clearly your own self-image (and cultural image) will shine through in your writing! Adopt a style that suits you personally, but be aware of cultural misunderstandings that might arise. In being direct, for example, try not to seem rude or unsympathetic. As in writing your CV, keep your reader in mind at all times.
An example of a covering letter accompanying a CV (UK)
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a) State your purpose/reason for writing:
"I should like to apply . . ."
b) State the post/position for which you want to apply:
" . . .for the position of Research Technician . . ."
c) Cite the source and the date/issue from which you learned about the job:
"which was advertised recently in the Ocober 10th issue of the New Scientist . .."
Body of the letter
a) Introduce yourself with any relevant personal data (e.g.
age, marital status, nationality):
"I am 23 years old, single and am willing to relocate abroad."
b) Briefly include your current job, length of employment and any duties and responsibilities which might be relevant to the job:
"I am presently employed as a . . . and have held this position for the last three years."
c) Point out your highest academic qualification
"As you will note from my CV, I hold a master's degree in . . . from the University of Turku, where I specialised in . . ."
d) Mention any earlier experience (e.g traineeships) or special skills which could be valuble to the employer:
"I have also had experience in . . .while working as a trainee in a work study programme at . . ."
". . . and am familiar with . . . /have much experience in using . . ."
e) Emphasise the benefits to the employer of hiring you, and mention any reasons why the job would be beneficial to you (this shows that your motivation is not purely financial!):
"I believe that my knowledge of . . . would be of great value/benefit to this position . . ."
"I feel that this position would give me the opportunity to further develop my skills in the field of . . ."
a) Mention the documents (e.g. CV) which accompany your
"Please find enclosed my curriculum vitae . . ."
b) Mention your willingness or ability to come for an interview or to give more information:
"I should be pleased to attend an interview at any time which is convenient to you. I can be contacted at the telephone number given at any time /during office hours / after 5 p.m."
"I would be most happy to provide any further details you may require."
c) If the advertisement specifies that further information concerning conditins of employment, job description, or salary can be obtained by writing:
"I should be grateful for further details concerning . . ."
d) Finally, indicate your interest in getting a reply even if it isn't what you'd hoped for:
"I look forward to hearing from you (soon)."
Although the above framework and phrases are intended for a job application, many can be adapted for an application for a student exchange place. It's useful to look at the sample letters in the links listed below to build up a repertoire of phrases.
Prospects.ac.uk the UK's official graduate careers website
The University of Western Australia, Centre for Staff Development