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YOUR COVER LETTER
You should always include a covering letter with your CV when applying for a job. Your covering letter should complement and reinforce your CV, and gives you the chance to highlight skills and experience mentioned in the CV, and comment on anything that you feel needs further explanation. For example, if you are not currently in employment because of a recent redundancy, you can mention this in your covering letter, rather than try to include this in the body of the CV, which can look messy. If couched in positive terms, this gives the employer a valid explanation of an otherwise unexplained CV gap, and also lets them know that you will be available quickly.
Covering letters are often treated as an afterthought by job applicants, but they are worth taking seriously and spending time on as they are part of the job application process and employers will read them carefully. Think about it from the employerís point of view - a good covering letter not only demonstrates your written skills and style, it also shows how you are able to construct a persuasive argument, and better conveys an idea of your motivation and approach than a factual CV. An employer could be looking through a large number of CVs, from similar candidates who all meet the basic criteria for the job. The covering letter therefore becomes something that can give you competitive advantage and is your chance to enlarge upon the facts in your CV and really drive home why you are worth an interview.
Writing a cover letter for a job application
Your covering letter should be no longer than one side of A4, three or four paragraphs. The usual conventions of letter writing apply, for instanceboth addresses at the top of the letter, include the date and personally addressed to the recipient. Start the letter by clearly stating the title of the job for which you are applying - check this against the job advert or job description and get it right, a rough approximation of what you think it is will not do! Include a reference number if one has been given, and where you saw the post advertised.
The bulk of the letter should be concerned with explaining why you are interested in the job, and why you are suited to it. The best way to do this is to refer back to the original job advert, or to a role profile or job description if this has been supplied. Even a short job advert should include details of what the job involves, and the skills, experience and qualities required to do it - often referred to as a "person specification" or "selection criteria".
Make a list of these criteria, and then briefly address each of these in the letter, showing how you meet them through previous work experience (or other activities, such as hobbies and interests, voluntary work etc). It is very important that you donít just make assertions about meeting the criteria, but back these up with solid evidence and examples. Highlight any particular achievements in these areas, and any criteria which you feel are your strengths.
Your letter should also convey some of your enthusiasm for the job and motivation for applying, but again keep this brief and avoid gushing - even if this really is your dream job! As mentioned at the top of this page, you may also want to include explanations for any gaps or perceived weakness in the CV, but make sure that this is explained in a positive way. Finally, you can include any relevant information about your availability for interview, for example mention any holidays or dates you wouldnít be available, and end the letter with a positive statement such as "I look forward to hearing from you soon".
You should use positive and professional language in your letter - avoid being casual and colloquial, but equally donít go to the other extreme and be too formal or use unnecessarily long words in the hope of impressing the recruiter - you wonít. If you are e-mailing your application, you can either send your covering letter as an attachment, or paste it into an e-mail. If the latter, donít lapse into informal e-mail style, but use the same tone as you would in a letter.
Make sure your CV and cover letter are consistent
Format and print your CV and letter in the same way, check that the grammar and spelling conventions you use are the same for both CV and letter, and make sure that you get facts, dates, names etc the same for both. Proof read for typos, punctuation, glaring errors etc, or get someone else to do this for you if you are not good at picking up your own mistakes.
Tailor your covering letter for different job applications
As with your CV, you will need to tweak your letter depending on the nature of the job you are applying for, and this applies even more to the covering letter than to the CV, as the covering letter gives you more space to engage with the details of a specific job. Failure to do this is obvious - an employer can tell if you have simply rattled off your standard, bland cover letter which makes no reference to their particular job, and will not be impressed. And, although this may seem obvious, save a copy of each new covering letter that you write, rather than overtyping one original letter. This should save you from the pitfall of forgetting to change the name and address of the employer, or the job title!
Address your covering letter correctly
You might think this one is blindingly obvious, but youíd be surprised! If you know the name of the person to whom the letter should be addressed, use it. If the person is female but you donít know her title, donít make assumptions - either use her full name, or use Ms. If you donít know, and havenít been able to find out, the personís name, or are making a speculative application, use Dear Sir or Madam - starting your letter Dear Sirs will only alienate and possibly offend your potential employer before she has even read your letter!
Always type your letter
Unless otherwise requested, always type your covering letter. Even if you have the most exquisite handwriting, employers much prefer to see a word processed letter which is legible and clear to read. It is quite rare these days for employers to ask for a handwritten letter - handwriting is usually irrelevant to a job, and graphology (the study of handwriting) has been shown to be a poor predictor of someoneís suitability for a job.