It’s important to include a covering letter when applying for jobs – either to accompany a resume or an application form. Your cover letter should make the recruiter want to read your resume/application form. Don’t make the mistake of boring the recruiter! Too many cover letter are very dull, droning on and on about the applicant’s past achievements, present duties and tedious hobbies. Your resume should cover (briefly) your skills, experiences and present duties, your cover letter doesn’t need to do that.
What it does need:
1. Full contact details
Full means more than one way of contacting you. You need a cell/mobile number, daytime telephone number, evening telephone number, email address and postal address. Bear in mind that recruiters may want to contact you during working hours – if this is a problem (i.e. you don’t want your present employer to know that you are applying for other jobs), it’s fine to say so and ask for email contact or evening calls only.
2. Which job you are applying for – and any reference number
A surprising amount of people don’t state which job they are applying for, and lots of companies advertise more than one vacancy at once. This puts you out of the running for the job, as you look unprepared and disorganised.
3. A good letter layout
Your name, address and contact details should go at the top of the letter – either centred or right-aligned. The date should go below that, then the company address and recruiter/hiring manager’s name. Below all that is the ‘Dear X’. Don’t get this bit wrong. If you have the person’s name use ‘Dear Mr X’ or ‘Dear Mrs X’. Use ‘Ms’ if you don’t know whether to use ‘Mrs’ or ‘Miss’. If the job vacancy stated ‘Mrs’ or ‘Miss’, though, whatever you do don’t use ‘Ms’. A lot of women hate it!
If you don’t have the recruiter’s name then use ‘Dear Sir/Madam’. Yes, even in these modern times! It’s considered polite, like shaking hands and excusing yourself when you sneeze all over someone. The close is different depending on whether you use a name or a Sir/Madam. If you open with Dear Sir/Madam, then always close with ‘Yours faithfully’ (capital Y, small f). If you open with a name – i.e. Dear Ms Hall – then always close with ‘Yours sincerely’ (capital Y, small s).
It all seems faintly 19th century, but those 19th century manners can get you a job!
Go easy on it. No clipart, no hard-to-read fonts and no weird colours. It’s OK to have two fonts, though – one for your contact details (almost like letterheaded paper) and another for the letter itself. Microsoft have switched from Times New Roman to Calibri for their default font and it’s quite a good idea to follow their lead. Times New Roman is a serif font (little flicky bits on the edges of letters), which can be a little hard to read. Calibri is sans-serif (sans=without serif, no flicky bits) and is easier, plainer, more simple and modern.
Choose one font size for the whole letter – generally 11 or 12 pt. Any smaller is hard to read, any larger looks like a 10th grader trying to make it appear they have written more in their essay than they have! Stick to one type of layout. Don’t indent one paragraph but not the next – if you must indent (it can look a little old-fashioned), do it using tabs, not by tapping the spacebar. That’s because most people who do that end up with each indent slightly different.
It’s safer to left-align everything (apart from your contact details at the top), including the close. Too many people mix layouts – indenting paragraphs but left-aligning the close; or the other way round, left-aligning everything but centring ‘Yours sincerely’.
5. About you
In your first paragraph, say which job you are applying for and write a few sentences saying what you like about the company.
In your second paragraph, briefly outline your skills and why you think you are suitable for the job.
In your third paragraph, give a little background information about yourself. Make sure this is relevant to the position or the company. So if you are applying for a job in PR, it’s fine to say you have been a journalist, but not so relevant to say you did 3 years as a lumberjack (although it might make a good book).
In your final paragraph, say that you have enclosed your resume/application form and would very much appreciate the opportunity of an interview.
A cover letter is a great way to make an impact. Make sure your spelling and grammar are correct – the best way is to get an uptight friend to check your letter for you! Don’t use silly paper – plain white or cream is fine. Use a good quality envelope.
When you have written a cover letter that you’re happy with, be sure to make a copy for next time, so you don’t have to go through the whole tortuous process again from scratch!