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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 focussed 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.
Try to gauge what the company’s business plan is. For example if they have spent a lot of money on a flashy website they could be hoping to expand more into online sales. As accurately as you can try to, know exactly what will be expected of you should you get the job. For example what are the duties of a marketing manager and what qualities they should posses?
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.
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 Recruitment 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.
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 good opening paragraphs:
The Second Paragraph
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.
The Third Paragraph
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
The Fourth Paragraph
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.
Closing the letter
Sign off your covering 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.
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 stationery, 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.
Still need help? Read the views of guest blogger and career coach Aimee Bateman on whether employers value cover letters.