a covering letter

Think you've got it covered?

If you are applying for a job you will probably have to write a covering letter to go with your CV or application form. We explain why it’s important to tailor each one to the job you are applying for, and why one size doesn’t fit all.

Whether you are applying for a job online or sending off your application by snail mail, you will need to put together some sort of covering letter to go with it.

A covering letter is a brief explanation of why you want the job and how your skills, experience or enthusiasm make you the ideal candidate for the role, above all others who apply.

This is your chance to stand out and catch the employer’s eye, which is why it’s so important to tailor your covering letter to match the job you are applying for, rather than trotting out the same old lines you’ve used in all the covering letters you’ve ever written before.

Writing a covering letter

First things first: keep it short. Recruiters don’t have the time to read rambling covering letters so stick to no more than one page if you are writing a letter, or a couple of paragraphs if you are sending it electronically. Your covering letter has to prove that you are interested in this specific job – rather than simply looking for any old job – and it’s up to your CV to expand on your skills and experience.

Tailor it to the job in question

In order to get your covering letter to perfectly match the job you are applying for, make sure you read the job advertisement carefully and do any extra research you need to in order to understand what the company does, and what the role entails.

If you are applying for a job as a project manager for example, the advertisement might specify they are looking for someone who can work as part of a team and meet tight deadlines. In this case, make sure your covering letter sets out your previous experience of working with others on tasks and projects, and how you finished everything on time.

Match key words

A good way to catch the recruiter’s attention is to make sure your covering letter mentions all the key words from the job advertisement, such as “confident”, “organised”, “motivated” and so on. It seems obvious, but repeating back the words of the job ad in your covering letter clearly shows the recruiter that you are the kind of candidate who matches their job spec.

So, for example, if the advertisement says the job requires a methodical individual with experience of working under their own initiative, make sure your covering letter mentions that you have these skills and how you have used them in the past.

Have a practice run

There’s a bit of an art to composing a successful covering letter, so write a few practice examples first to get into the swing of it. You need to be able to explain your strengths and experience without going over the top and blowing your own trumpet in an unrealistic way.

Read through the job advert first and pick out the key words you need to echo in your covering letter. Make sure you also mention why you are interested in the job, and what qualities and experience you will be able to bring to the role.

Next, type up your covering letter – rather than writing it by hand, if at all possible – and check for spelling errors before you print or send it. Running a spell check is crucial because it is easy to make spelling errors when typing as you know what you think you have written, but very often this is not what you have actually typed.

If you have to post your covering letter it also looks more professional if it is printed out on the same paper as your CV – preferably white or cream – using the same simple font in both. And don’t forget to keep a copy, so that if you are invited to interview you can remember what you said in your covering letter, and how you sold yourself.

Get on the shortlist

You certainly won’t be the only person applying for each job, and recruiters are pressed for time. If they’ve got to wade through tens or even hundreds of applications for a single position, one of the main methods that companies use to compile a shortlist is to pick out those candidates whose skills most closely match the ones listed as required in the job advertisement.

By taking the time to carefully read the job spec and making sure your covering letter matches the key words and skills that the employer is looking for, you will give yourself the best chance of submitting a successful application.

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