A great CV is only half of your marketing armoury. To really stand out you need to accompany it with a strong covering letter. CVs are about bald facts – summaries of your responsibilities and statements of your achievements. They are limited in their ability to tell the selector much about your aims and aspirations, and to draw attention to why you, above all others, fit the profile they have outlined.
A good covering letter complements your CV. It focuses on your particular qualifications and experience relevant to the job, and indicates what you can offer over and above the basic requirements of the position.
Golden rules for creating an effective covering letter
- Stay relevant and keep it concise and punchy
- Highlight your skills, experience and achievements relevant to the job
- Highlight where you can offer ‘added value’
Responding to advertisements
If you are responding to an advert, first break down the details given in the advert into a ‘requirements list’. Then, highlight your skills and experience against each of the features listed. If you don’t match the criteria at least 90%, then most recruiters would advise against you applying for the position. If an advert that states ‘must have at least five years experience in the electronics industry, it is unlikely you will be considered if you only have two years experience in advertising. On the other hand, if you do have a shortcoming, but feel your skills in other areas might outweigh this, then it might be worth applying. For instance, the advert might call for three European languages – if you only have one or two, you may well be considered.
Structuring your letter
Your opening statement
The first paragraph should grab the reader’s attention. It should immediately highlight your suitability for the role.
Selling the sizzle
The second paragraph should usually outline two or three examples of achievements that are relevant to your target job and which will illustrate your suitability. Quantify and qualify these achievements and highlight what makes them important eg: ‘Over the last two years I have successfully project managed Europe’s largest EPOS implementation…’ or ‘ I am currently responsible for running the group’s largest plant producing more than 50,000 units per week (the highest volume producer in Europe)’. You may wish to bullet point this section to make specific points more distinct.
The third paragraph might touch on your personal qualities in regard to the job or the type of organisation you are targeting. Extensive international experience, the experience of dealing with other business cultures, language ability, experience in dealing with the types of clients or customers your prospective employer currently deals with…. these are all areas in which you can ‘add value.
Stating your aims
The fourth paragraph should briefly summarise your suitability for the role and state why you want the job … fresh challenges, opportunity to gain broader experience, the chance to exploit your language skills……….. You should also reflect on what you know about the organisation; you might allude to the fact that you are excited by the company’s aggressive expansion plans or by their new product developments.
Dealing with the details
The final paragraph should include practical information. Include salary details if requested (see below). Indicate location preferences (if requested to do so). Give contact details such as a day time contact number (see below).
Sign off your letter with ‘Yours sincerely’ if you have addressed the letter to a named person, or ‘Yours faithfully’ if you started ‘Dear Sir / Madam’.
Covering letter top tips
Keep it concise – usually not more than one page. Focus on relevant facts only. The letter is intended as a ‘taster’; well-crafted, you can usually say everything you need to in three or four paragraphs.
Type the letter and lay it out professionally. Only handwritten letters when you have been specifically requested to do so. Word processing is clearer, easier to read and expected in the business world.
- Use good quality plain paper, preferably matching your CV.
- Post your letter and CV flat in an A4 envelope.
Include all the details requested in the advert. If asked to include a day time telephone number, then do. If you absolutely cannot be contacted during the day, give a number where a message can be left. If a reference number is quoted in the advert, put this on the covering letter and on the outside of the envelope.
The thorny matter of salary
Don’t include salary details unless specifically requested to do so. If the advert gives a salary level, then use this as your guide as to whether to quote your basic salary or include bonuses etc. If the advert quotes say, £45,000 and your current salary is £25,000, most selectors, at first sight, would consider it unlikely you have the required level of experience or seniority for the job in question. If £25,000 is your basic salary and you have a substantial bonus, you might state ‘my current salary package is £40,000’. If your current salary is more than that stated, give your basic salary. Requesting salary details is the recruiter’s way of checking whether you are in the ballpark for consideration. If the salary on offer is below what you are currently earning, but you really want the job and are prepared to take a drop in salary, make this clear in your letter.
Putting on a brave face
Don’t include a photograph unless asked to do so. If you do send a photograph, make sure it is good quality, flattering professional image. A clear head and shoulders shot, in business dress, is best. Avoid the temptation to send one of your old holiday snaps.
Getting the details right
Make sure you follow the application process as stated in the job advert: get your application in before any stated closing date; if the advert invites to you send off for an application form, do; if you are requested to send the application to a recruiter, don’t try to bypass the system by sending it directly to the company.