You want that job. You’ve worked on your C.V. You’ve knocked it into shape so that your skills, experience and qualifications are all targeted to the position. You’ve used a single font and set out the document in a clear, easy to read format. You’re ready to go.
Well… not quite. Without a cover letter your application is incomplete. A cover letter is your chance to quickly grab the attention of the employer and give them a snapshot of your skills, experience and personality that will make you stand out from all those other applications on their desk. Accompanying your C.V. with a cover letter lends a degree of professionalism to your application and shows you’re prepared to go that extra mile to get the job.
A Formal Process
An employment application is a formal process, so take a formal approach to the layout of your cover letter. In the top right hand corner place your address, phone numbers and email address (do not include your name in this section). Beneath this leave a space and put the date. Leave another space and put the name of the person you’re writing to, their position (Recruitment Manager etc.), the company name, and the address of the company. You’re ready to start writing.
Well… not quite. You’ve got the job advertisement in front of you, but have you spent a few minutes making a list of the skills, experience and qualifications it asks for? Have you identified the keywords it contains? Doing so will make it much easier to target your cover letter to the position. Have you researched the company on the internet? This could provide valuable background and, perhaps, further information on what they’re looking for in a candidate.
Do you have the name of the person you’re writing to, not just their position title? Using a name creates a far more favourable impression than “Dear Sir…” so, if possible find out who you’re writing to, even if it means phoning the company.
Right, now you’re ready.
Constructing Your Cover Letter
Your cover letter should be no more than one page long and should be broken into 3 or 4 short paragraphs. Bear in mind that the hirer will be short of time, will have many applications to look at and will be unlikely to spend more than 60 seconds reading your letter.
- In paragraph 1 you should state why you are writing (to apply for the job), what job you are applying for (include any reference numbers), and where you saw the advertisement.
- Paragraph 2 is where you sell yourself. Here, you want to tell the company why you are a great candidate for the role. Do this by outlining two or three of the characteristics (skills, qualifications, achievements) that make you so right for the job. Remember, keep it concise and relevant to the position. Consider using bullet points in this part of your cover letter to reduce reading time.
- The final paragraph closes the letter. Convey your enthusiasm for the role and the company, inform them how and when you will follow up this cover letter (by phoning next Thursday?), and thank them for the time they spent reading your application.
Finish your cover letter with an appropriate complimentary close e.g. “Yours sincerely…”, “Yours faithfully…” etc.
- Don’t quote from your C.V. verbatim, they don’t want to read the same thing twice.
- Note particular terms and keywords in the job advertisement and use them in your letter – they are a very quick way for the employer to see that you have the relevant skills and experience.
- Don’t list your demands for salary, conditions, holidays etc. All of these can be discussed at interview.
- Maintain a professional tone throughout the letter. Don’t use slang and don’t be overly familiar.
- Use the same font and layout style on both your covering letter and C.V.
- Spell check and proofread your letter, then get someone else to do it. A fresh pair of eyes may spot mistakes you have missed.
- When you’ve finished your letter leave it overnight and read it again the next day. Does it still sound as good? Is there anything that needs changing?
And, most of all, understand that writing a good cover letter takes time and effort – but if it gets you that job it’s more than worth it!