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Why do you need a covering letter?

The covering letter is vital to your CV. This is why it is the first page and not an addition. “Please find enclosed my CV” won’t get you very far.

Your covering letter demonstrates your writing style better than your CV (which is usually more brief and factual).

How long should your covering letter be? 

We found in a survey carried out with our clients that:

* 19% of employers preferred a full page

* 46% preferred half a page

* 11% had no preference

* 24% felt the shorter the better!

The key point here is that it should never be longer than one page long.

Who should you address your letter to? 

Try to find the name of the person to write to. Research found that those who included a letter with their CV were 10% more likely to receive a reply and those who addressed the covering letter and envelope to the correct named person were 15% more likely to receive a letter of acknowledgement and 5% more likely to gain an interview. They also found that 60% of CVs are mailed to the wrong person, with the managing director being the main beneficiary of the unsolicited mail.

Suggested structure for your covering letter: 

First Paragraph 

-State the job you’re applying for.

-Where you found out about it (advert in The Guardian newspaper etc. – organisations like to know which of their advertising sources are being successful)

-When you’re available to start work (and end if it’s a placement)

Second Paragraph 

-Why you’re interested in that type of work

-Why the company attracts you (if it’s a small company say you prefer to work for a small friendly organisation!)

Third Paragraph 

-Summarise your strengths and how they might be an advantage to the organisation.

-Relate your skills to the competencies required in the job.

Last Paragraph 

-Mention any dates that you won’t be available for interview

-Thank the employer and say you look forward to hearing from them soon.

-If you start with a name (e.g. “Dear Mr Smith”) you should end with “Yours sincerely”. If you start with “Dear Sir or Madam” you should end with “Yours faithfully”.

Emailed letters 

Put your covering letter as the body of your email. It’s wise to format it as plain text as then it can be read by any email reader.

Emails are not as easy to read as letters. Stick to simple text with short paragraphs and plenty of spacing. Break messages into points and make each one a new paragraph with a full line gap between paragraphs. DON’T “SHOUT” (WRITE IN UPPER CASE?) Your CV is then sent as an attachment. Say you’ll send a printed CV if required.

If you don’t know the name of the person you are writing to, it’s probably best to use the formal Dear Sir or Madam and to sign off Yours Sincerely or Yours Faithfully (see above).

If they have already emailed you, reply back in the same style, so if they have signed their email “Mary”, write Dear Mary, but if they have signed it “Ms Smith”, write Dear Ms Smith.

If they have emailed you and addressed you Hi Dave, then it’s OK to reply Hi Mary.

Also mirror the way they sign off, if they use “regards”, “best wishes”, then it’s safe to do the same.

How not to write a covering letter: 

-Like one of your coffees, I am designed to be opened, savoured and enjoyed. (in application to a coffee company)

-I am someone who knows my own destiny, but I have no definite long term plans

-I have become completely paranoid, trusting completely in no one and absolutely nothing.

-Here are my qualifications for you to overlook.

-I am applying for the post of obstacle assistant (for optical assistant post)

-If called to interview I would like to discuss the salary, pensions and sickness benefits

-I have excellent memory skills, good analytical skills, and excellent memory skills.

-Wholly responsible for two (2) failed financial institutions.

-I was working for my mother until she decided to move.

-Spelt your own name wrongly: noticeable as it was included it at both the top and the bottom of his covering letter.

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