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How to Write a Covering Letter

Ok, so you have three or four paragraphs to sell yourself to your future employer. How do you start writing the covering letter?

First things first, don’t write anything until you have properly read the job advert. Then highlight the key things they are looking for. If they don’t specify, then put yourself in their position and think about what they would be looking for. Alternatively, you could always give their HR team a call.

Next, research the company properly. This means doing more than reading the ‘about us’ section on their website. Think about what the organisation’s values: What makes them different from other competitors? Who are their customers? What kind of candidates do they want to attract? It’s also vital to think about what really attracts YOU to their company and how you think your skills will benefit them.

Thinking over, let’s get writing…

A great, hulking covering letter DON’T is to repeat exactly what your CV already says. The trick is to highlight the relevant points in the CV and give them more information about them. The covering letter should be the filling and icing (and silver sugar balls, if you like) to the plain sponge of your CV.

What tone should you use? It needs to be professional and formal, but, at the same time, you need to convey your own personal voice. We don’t mean wittering on about your Bieber obsession, but rather avoiding clichéd expressions and formulaic business speak. Think of different ways to structure and formulate your sentences to really show off your writing style. It should be interesting, but economical. Keep it concise. Your cover letter should be no more than one side of A4.

You can create a general covering letter template, but it should be modified for every job application. Here’s a basic structure, but you can play around with it:

First things first…

Try and address your covering letter to a named person (find out who you are writing to). Use a formal business letter template: your address and the name and address of recipient should be at the top of the letter. If you are emailing them, put the covering letter in the body of the email and omit the addresses.

Paragraph 1

This is where you tell them who you are and why you are writing. Don’t start with “I am writing to…” Everyone, EVERYONE, starts with this. Mention the role you are applying to and how you heard about the job (particularly if you were referred by a mutual acquaintance). Give a unique reason why you personally would be great for the job. Feel free to show a little bit of enthusiasm, but don’t go overboard. No: “I am WETTING MYSELF at the thought of working for you.”

Paragraph 2

Here you should outline why you want to work for this particular company, in this job, in this sector. Really think about why you want to work for the organisation and try to come up with a reason that sounds genuine and unique. Again, keep it concise.

Paragraph 3

Here you can highlight any relevant skills, work experience, or education that you think show why you would be great for the position. You should always, always back them up with evidence: it’s about showing rather than telling. Make sure you showcase the skills that they ask for in the job brief; this is where you give them evidence that shows you’re a top-notch candidate for the job. Be confident, but no bragging.

Paragraph 4

This should be very brief. Say when you’re available for interview and cover any practical issues they ask about (e.g. what your salary expectations are). Be positive: “I’m looking forward to your reply.”

You should end the letter “Yours sincerely” if it’s being sent to a named person; if you haven’t managed to find out a name then use: “Yours faithfully” followed by your name (obviously!).

Finally…

If you’re emailing your covering letter or they’re likely to read it onscreen, then use a font designed to be read on a screen, such as Verdana or Helvetica (Arial is a bit passé, darling!). You should also use shorter paragraphs in emails as well.

So you’ve written it, but it isn’t over until the proofreader sings. By proofreader, we mean you. Scour every inch of your covering letter for spelling and grammar mistakes. Get someone else to do it as well. So many people make schoolboy errors, such as misspelling the name of the company, the addressee or referring to the wrong placement. Don’t be a schoolboy. Check, check, check and check again!