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How to make covering letters stand out
With an in-tray full of applications an employer will spend approximately 20 seconds casting an eye over each one. You have to be sure that in those 20 seconds your cover letter has sufficient impact to make the reader want to know more about you.
A covering letter builds upon the information you provided in your CV, it is a focused sales pitch stating clearly in simple language just why this company should employ you. All of its contents should reaffirm to the reader that you are the right person for that job.
Before you sit down to write your letter do some research on the company and into the role to which you are applying. The easiest way to do this is on the Internet. Be sure you know exactly what the company does and how they are placed amongst their competitors. Most roles are advertised with a specification, that outlines what the role entails, and personal qualities and experiences they expect an applicant to have. Your cover letter should aim to clearly show how you meet these. If one is not given, it is worth requesting one to guide your application.
Carrying out research shows to the employer that you have initiative and that you are genuinely interested in the company, it will also allow you to use style and terminology that is appropriate to the audience. For example the company may be relaxed or very formal, new or established, rapidly expanding or in the doldrums.
If you are applying for an advertised position make sure that the job advert is in front of you and refer to it frequently.
If you are applying for an unadvertised position, do some research on the company and see where they are likely to be expanding, or pick a recent project to focus on, and show how you have researched the company and can be beneficial to them.
Addressing your covering letter
It is imperative that you address your letter carefully. After spending time wording it to perfection you do not want it to be directed to the wrong person or to go astray.
If you are applying for an advertised vacancy there is probably a contact name on that advert, and so address your letter to that person.
If you are writing to a company for a job when they have not advertised a vacancy, the chances are that unless you have contacts on the inside you will not know the name of the person you need to write to. In this case you can address your letter to the manager of the specific departments to which you are applying, for example Marketing Manager, Sales Manager, otherwise you can send it to the Human Resources Manager or Personnel Manager. Visit the company's website and see if you can track down the name of a relevant recipient. Alternatively give the company a call and ask for the name of the head of department to which you are applying.
You should make sure that the recipient's name, department and address details on the envelope are the same as at the top of the letter.
Beginning the letter
- Dear Mr Coxon - If you know the name of the person to whom you are writing'Bold text'
- Dear Ms Chambers - If you are not sure of the marital status of the female recipient
- Dear Sir/Madam - If you are in totally in the dark as to the name of the recipient
A cover letter is often skimmed very quickly, so the opening paragraph should be short and hard-hitting. Begin with an arresting sentence in which you explain why it is you are writing, for example 'I would like to be considered for the position of Marketing Manager'. If you are applying for an advertised position then say where you saw the advert, ' In response to the Marketing Manager job vacancy advertised in 'Marketing Weekly'. If someone referred you to your contact, mention your friend's referral in this section.
Examples of opening paragraphs:
- In response to the advertised position in The Guardian on July12th, please consider my résumé in your search for a Client/Server Architect.
- I was pleased to hear from Jeremy Green that you will soon have a vacancy for a Marketing Assistant. I am very interested in this position, and I think that with my skills I could be an asset to your company.
- Having recently read in The Times of your company's plans for expansion, I am writing to establish whether this will involve an increase in personnel. As a final year business student at Durham University, I am seeking a position in January that will develop my marketing and finance skills.
- I am writing to apply for the Photographic Assistant position advertised in the November 1 listing of Car Magazine.
Why should an employer be interested in hiring you? Briefly describe your professional and academic qualifications that are relevant to the position. If the job was advertised refer to all of the required skills written therein.
Emphasise what you can do for the company, not vice versa. Outline a relevant career goal, for example if you are applying for Sales positions do not say that you are training to be an airline pilot. Incorporate your research. Expand on the most relevant points of your CV.
Request actions, for example indicate your desire for a personal interview and that you're able to meet with the employer at their convenience.
Some job adverts will ask you to include salary requirements, you can choose to ignore this, opting instead to wait until the interview to talk about money, or include a broad salary range, for example £16 - 20K. Never talk about salary in your covering letter unless the company indicates to.
Closing the letter
Finish your letter 'Yours sincerely' then do not forget to sign it. Write an enclosure line at the bottom.
As with standard formal letter writing, your address goes at the top right hand corner, miss a line and then put the date. The recipient's address goes on the left side on the line after the date. See example:
Employ appropriate margin and paragraph spacing so that your letter is not bunched up at the top of the page but is evenly distributed and balanced.
The envelope should look as professional as its contents. Do not use any fancy stationary, a simple white envelope is best. Use a good pen, with black ink and use your best hand. Alternatively the envelope can be typed.
Always type your covering letter and use the same quality plain paper onto which you printed your CV. You may be asked to hand write your letter since some companies employ a graphologist to analyse your handwriting.
Important points to note
- Avoid sounding pompous or using clichés and catch phrases, there are some statements that are used all the time such as 'I have excellent interpersonal skills', you want your letter to be unique.
- Try to avoid using 'I' too much. A page of I did this and I did that is not appealing - it says to the employer that you haven't thought about them.
- Do not use abbreviations.
- Do not exceed four paragraphs of content.
- To satisfy the skim reader, incorporate some industry sound bites and buzzwords.
- Subtly flatter the company, for example 'you are the industry leader'
Check and then recheck your spelling, grammar and punctuation. Get someone else to read it through also.
- If you are making a speculative application you should follow up the letter with a phone call, e-mail or office visit.
- Paper clip your covering letter to your CV, one should never be sent out without the other.
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