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The importance of the covering letter

For many job applicants, their CV’s covering letter is a missed opportunity instead of a chance to shine.

Filed in Changing jobs

We've seen lots of examples of covering letters and far too many of them simply say 'I enclose my CV' - or words to that effect. Yes, the CV is important, but the covering letter gives you another opportunity to stand out.

It also lets you say things that you wouldn't perhaps say on a CV, or say them in a way that better reflects your personality. After all, CVs tend to be structured and formulaic - but a covering letter can be whatever you want it to be. Here are some tips.

Think about the letter

Don't just bash off a quick letter. Don't just send a standard letter. Research the job; research the company - make your letter fit exactly what your prospective employer is looking for. Remember, while your goal is to get the job, the employer's goal is to find the most perfect fit possible. Read the job description carefully, find out more about the company from its website and annual report - and focus your letter appropriately.

Address it to the person by name

Don't settle for 'sir or madam'. Find out who is going to read the letter - for the most part, this will be on the job advertisement. But, if it isn't, then call the recruiting company and ask - there's no need to deceive anyone, just say you're applying for a job and want to make sure it's addressed to the right person. It's a little thing, but it counts.

Introduce yourself - but briefly

Since your CV profiles you in detail, there's no need to repeat its contents in your covering letter. A brief introduction - to orientate the reader - is enough: 'I'm a trainer with fifteen years' experience…' for example.

Say you are interested

It's a common trap to wish to project yourself as professional, but in so doing appear either aloof or unenthusiastic. Employers love people who love their work - and especially love those who are keen to make an impact. So say so: show your interest, keenness and enthusiasm with a few emotive words. 'This role seems absolutely ideal for my skills; it's something I have a genuine passion for; I am extremelyenthusiastic about working for a company whose vision matches my own'. Passion, commitment, and enthusiasm - all of these are as important as having the right skills.

Explain what you offer

Skilled sales people know the importance of an elevator pitch. In a covering letter, you need to put across the one key, main thing you're going to bring to the party - and not fall into the trap of banging on about yourself. One fairly short paragraph should be enough. Don't make it complicated. An example: 'In addition to having the technical skills to fulfil this role, I have the commercial experience that you are seeking, having spent four years working as..."

Demonstrate your personality

There's far more scope within a covering letter to express yourself. While this isn't an opportunity to launch into a stream of jokes, you can put yourself across more warmly and with more enthusiasm than you can in a CV. Seize that opportunity. 

Keep it short

Here's the hard part: keep your letter short. It doesn't have to be tiny, but don't exceed one side of A4 - and don't fill that edge-to-edge either. You won't win prizes for the shortest letter, but the longer it is, the less likely it is to be read. A page about two thirds full is about right.

Conclusion

Most people spend a lot of time on their CV, but not on their covering letter. Don't be one of them - since most CVs are factual and dry, the covering letter can be the thing that swings the interview.

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