Writing a Cover Letter
Your cover letter is the first thing a recruiter will see, so it is essential that you introduce your CV in the best way possible. Although there's no such thing as the perfect letter, following a basic formula will help you on your way and make your cover letter a worthy build-up to your CV.
Type or write?
Opinion is divided amongst experts as to whether covering letter should be painstakingly handwritten or typed out on a PC. The advantage of handwriting your letter is that it shows you have taken time over that individual application. It also allows you the opportunity to demonstrate neatness, spelling and an old-fashioned knack of simply being able to write a letter.
Even with the proliferation of home computers, handwritten cover letters generally had the edge over typed, until email came along. Now it has become far more acceptable to send covering letters which have been typed on a PC. However, regular recruiters such as personnel managers and recruitment consultants can spot 'standard letters' a mile off.
Ideas for a well presented cover Letter
1. First paragraph
Explain why you are writing, making sure it entices them to read on. If you're replying to an advert, say where and when you saw the advert and if there is a reference number, quote it.
2. Second paragraph
Briefly explain your job and, if applicable, qualifications (professional and / or academic). Don't give too much away but enough to ensure that the reader continues, some research will help to identify what they may be looking for target these skills and reflect this in your letter. If you are replying to an advert, make sure the skills you specified are reflected in your CV and are relevant to the role that you are applying for.
3. Third paragraph
Say why they should employ you and why you would be a good employee. Tell the company a little about themselves, to demonstrate you know something about them.
4. Fourth paragraph
Lay down an action plan; say you would like the opportunity to meet them for an interview and you'll await their response, or that you will call in a few days. You don't have to leave the ball in their court, although be wary of seeming to 'pester' - and if you do say you are going to call, then make sure you do.
Dos and don'ts
- Make sure your letter is addressed to the right person at the right address, and that you spell everything correctly.
- Put all your contact details on the cover letter, including address, phone numbers, email address. If the prospective employer can't get hold of you, you won't get your interview.
- Write or print your cover letter on good quality paper that matches the paper of your CV. Coloured paper should be avoided – for best results, stick to good quality, white paper.
- Use bullet points where possible - it will be easier and quicker for the reader to scan. You should still include a proper introduction and ending to your letter - bullets should be framed by proper paragraphs.
- Make your letter bespoke, customised to the employer. Anyone can download a standard cover letter, but personalisation shows that you're serious.
- Pick out specific traits or skills mentioned in the job advert and demonstrate why you think you are suitable.
- Send your letter to 'sir' or 'madam' - find out who the right person is (either a department manager or HR manager) and address it to them.
- Send your letter without checking the main body of the text for spelling mistakes, typos, strange grammar, bad punctuation or smudged ink. In other words, make sure it is in perfect condition.
- Write too much. Your letter should be short, succinct and to the point; there is no reason to duplicate the details shown in your CV.
- Include negative information such as personality conflicts with previous employers, details of tribunals or adverse comments about your current employer.
- Use long words simply to impress – if you are using words you wouldn't usually use, then don't bother. Similarly, don't get someone else to write the letter for you.
Use of email
The key to making an impact when you are emailing an application is to customise it as much as possible to the job for which you are applying. This may take a little more time than if you are simply changing the address details, but take the time to do it.
Generally, the same rules as above apply, but there are three things to remember when you apply by email:
- Make sure your letter is written in a common font with standard formatting and punctuation. Once it is sent to another computer, the whole presentation of the document may change, so the content has to be especially good.
- If your cover letter is written within the email (as opposed to being attached as a Word document), make sure you apply the same formalities at this stage as you would in a hand-written letter, and perform a spell check before sending.
- Remember to attach your CV to the email!