Try to imagine Laurel without Hardy, fish but no chips, Wimbledon sans tennis; they wouldn’t be as memorable alone because they are inextricably linked. So it is with your CV and the covering letter – they are the inseparable components of your job application and one without the other just will not measure up. Time invested in CV writing is never wasted but that investment could come to nothing if you don’t get the covering letter read by the right person. First impressions count way before the interview stage and your covering letter needs to reflect your quality, style and professionalism.
So, how do you make your covering letter a ‘must read’? Firstly, make sure that it’s neither an autobiography nor a regurgitation of your CV. This is your chance to personalise your application and highlight why you want the job and what you can bring to the employer’s table. The covering letter is your one page chance (and one page only) to sell yourself and your CV. It needs to be cohesive, concise and persuasive.
The job advert will always indicate how the employer wants to receive applications and the trend is strongly toward email submission. In this case, your CV should be included as an attachment and your covering letter included in the body of the email, remembering the one page rule! If hard copy applications are required, make sure that your covering letter matches the style of your CV – that means an easily readable font in the right size and no coloured paper. Use black ink as it is easier to photocopy and remember to sign your letter by hand rather than insert an electronic signature.
Ensure that it’s addressed to the right person by name and position and that it tells them which role you are applying for and where you found the advert. Don’t be tempted to use one from your old job searches; HR people will know instantly if your letter is a recycled template you’ve used several times over and that’s guaranteed to sideline your CV. If you are sending speculative applications, be aware that up to 60% don’t reach the correct decision maker because the senders have failed to do their homework. So if in doubt, always ask.
Employers are impressed by research so marry what you know about the company and its operations to your skills and strengths and always refer to the keywords you find in the job advert. Tell the reader why their company attracts you but avoid lengthy paragraphs of information as they tend to put the reader to sleep! Try and show the employer, clearly and concisely, that you have obtained the skills appropriate to the job and illustrate the strengths you can bring to the role.
Avoid repeated use of ‘I’, as an egocentric or even an aggressive style will usually make the reader wary but neither should you be uncertain or appear to be grovelling. This will undermine your application and give the impression that you are making up with pleading for what you may lack in skills. Adopt an attitude that shows you want the job but that you believe the employer should also want you.
Additional information should include when you might be unable to attend interview, your willingness to relocate if necessary and the areas you would consider. The subject of salary can be left till the interview stage – if it’s been advertised, then it’s a given that you are interested and, if it hasn’t, there will be an element of negotiation once you’ve clinched the interview. If your application is speculative then you should indicate the salary range you’re looking for.
Try not to end your covering letter on a passive note and maintain the tone of keenness that you have demonstrated in the previous paragraphs. Thank the reader for their attention and say that you will follow up in a number of days to see if they have any questions.
Finally, do not hit the ‘send’ button or seal the envelope without checking and re-checking your spelling, grammar and punctuation. Don’t rely on your computer’s spellcheck, rather get someone else to carefully go through both the covering letter and the CV. All your efforts in putting together a knockout combination that sells you as the perfect candidate could come to nothing if you appear unprofessional.
Step by Step
• State the job you’re applying for, where you found it and when you’re available to start.
• Tell the reader why you’re interested in the job and why their company attracts you.
• Itemise your strengths and indicate how they would be an asset to the company.
• Relate your skills to the requirements of the job as closely as possible.
• Thank the reader and promise to follow up – be positive!