Too often the covering letter is a job seeker’s Achilles’ Heel. That’s because the candidate has often lavished hours on crafting their CV to make it as perfect as they can, only to produce the covering letter as an afterthought. The thinking behind this is that the CV will do all the hard work for you and the covering letter will just play a supporting role. Wrong.
Let’s begin with probably the most common error I see time and time again. The covering letter that goes something like this:
Dear Mr Matthews,
I wish to apply for the (job title) vacancy, as advertised in (publication, date). Please find enclosed my CV, which I hope you will study with interest.
If you need any further information, please do not hesitate to contact me.
This is all very nice — it’s a clear and polite statement of intent. But why waste a entire sheet of A4 just to inform the employer you are applying and have attached your CV? In today’s extremely competitive job market, employers don’t have to waste time on those who are just going to state the obvious and not use an opportunity to highlight their skills and strengths.
Perhaps its name tag “the covering letter” is the root of this problem? Indeed, to many, this name might suggest it’s not very important, that it’s just a note, merely attached to the all-powerful CV for a bit of casual clarification. Whatever the excuse, it’s no longer the way to go.
With the current CV mantra being “stick to two sides of A4”, space is at a premium. So, if you’re going to add a third page in the shape of a covering letter, make sure it justifies its existence, seizes the recruiter’s attention and keeps them reading.
One thing that is paramount when it comes to your CV and covering letter is that they should work together and complement each other. The covering letter should draw attention to your key skills relevant to the job and then the CV should expand on them. Very often, people make the mistake of writing the two in isolation.
From your covering letter, the employer wants to know:
Who you are and what job you want
Begin with a clear indication of the job you’re applying for and where you heard about it. If you have the name of a direct contact or referral, this is the place to mention it. Dropping a familiar name is going to be an effective way of catching someone’s eye.
What relevant skills you have and how you’ll apply them
In paragraphs two (and three, if needed), you should then outline key aspects of the job and make direct comparisons with skills and experience you have. “I see that this role demands the ability to reduce costs. As commercial manager at XYZ Ltd. I made real savings of almost 20% (£100,000) in my first full year” — for example.
That you really understand what’s required of you
Ensure you focus on the most important aspects of the role and make sure you relate them directly to recent and relevant experience. Remember, though this is your individual application for the job, do not attempt to write an application letter directly from the job advert.
If you have any additional skills over and above the job advert
In the next paragraph add any supporting information you feel is necessary, such as applied aspects of the role or what additional skills you can bring over and above the job specification.
Have a positive and professional attitude
Ensure your tone is confident and positive but don’t overdo it otherwise you may come across as arrogant or pushy. Remember you’re trying to get an interview, so you want to come across as a personable individual. Here’s a positive example:
Dear Mr Matthews,
I wish to apply for the post of accounts manager as advertised in the November issue of People Management. As you can see from my enclosed CV, I have more than 15 years experience in company accounts, the last six of which have been in management roles. Together with my professional qualifications, proven track record and desire to advance further, I feel I am more than ready for the challenges your position offers.
Have taken time to get to know their business
Try to find out the name of the person responsible for recruiting the role and some key company information can also show that you’ve done your homework.
I understand from your recent annual report (2009) that you have rapidly developed your operations across the European Union. Having spent the best part of a decade working in different EU countries, I am very experienced in the various working methods of each member state.
Are concise, businesslike and to the point
Make sure your cover letter does not exceed one page. It should really only be about four or five paragraphs. It should also be in the same font and the same point size as your CV.
That you really, really want this job
Finally, you should sum up. Reaffirm you interest in the role, the company and the challenges ahead. Thank the recruiter for taking the time to consider your application.
Remember then to sign off “yours sincerely” opposed to “yours faithfully”.