They say you should never judge a book by its cover: too bad nobody ever thought to extend the same teaching to CVs. All too often, worthy candidates find themselves at the bottom of the recycling bin because their covering letter fails to highlight the promise within.
Some candidates fail to realise that writing a covering letter – or more often than not, a covering email – is a part of the job application process requiring just as much thought as crafting your CV.
Elsewhere on the Office Angels website we have already offered a guide to writing the perfect CV.
Here, we provide a similar depth of advice to help you get to grips with creating a great cover letter.
What is a covering letter?
A covering letter is a letter of introduction accompanying any piece of written communication that needs explanation. In job seeking terms, a covering letter is your first and best opportunity to explain why you are perfect for the position on offer.
A good covering letter can be of even greater worth than a properly formatted CV. Though you should certainly be tailoring CVs to the position on offer, a cover letter allows you to specifically highlight the skills that are most relevant to the job.
It’s also the perfect platform for demonstrating why you’re applying for a role with that company instead of any other: this detail rarely falls within the remit of a CV. A great cover letter should contain:
- An explanation of why you are sending your CV
- Details of how you found out about the position, especially if that demonstrates an established interest in the company
- Specific qualifications and skills that fulfil the most important requirements in the job description
- An answer to any questions specifically asked in the job advert
- A demonstration of your desire to progress your career, as well as your general personality and positive attitude to work
- An indication of how you intend to chase them to see if you were successful
Be aware that additional cues may be taken from the quality of your letter: a letter filled with spelling mistakes or even poor formatting may irritate your recipient, for example.
What to include in a covering letter
As with most pieces of writing, the key to creating an excellent cover letter is to have a strong beginning, middle and end.
Capture the reader’s attention by keeping it to the point. State the exact position you’re applying for if you’re replying to a specific advert, or explain why you’re applying to that particular company if you’re applying speculatively.
Experience and skills
In this section, explain how your skills are suitable for the advertised role using the job spec for structure. Focus on transferrable skills if the job you’re applying for is in a different sector to the one you’re currently working in.
Demonstrate your passion for the company you’re applying to by explaining how you fit with and can contribute to its successes and values.
End on a positive note by explaining that you’d welcome the chance to meet the people you’re applying to and discuss your suitability in more detail.
Sample covering letter
The following is a traditional example of a covering letter, the kind you would expect to send for a business, accountancy or retail position.
Some sectors – particularly in creative industries – would find this kind of letter too formal and uncreative.
Dear Ms Smith,
I am writing in response to the position currently advertised on your website, and have attached my CV for your consideration.
Along with my previous work experience in a similar position at the local council, I feel my degree course makes me especially prepared for this position. The job description specifically mentions independent research, something I demonstrated when completing my final year dissertation. Additionally, a second year module specifically involved researching a section of the public that your agency deals with.
As mentioned in the skills section of my CV, I am a skilled writer capable of around 60 words per minute with a high degree of accuracy. I have been looking for a position which emphasises a little more independence than the simple data-entry positions I have previously had. This position looks ideal, and I am particularly excited by the prospect of progressing in the company.
Thank you for taking time to consider my application. I will phone to confirm receipt of my application in the near future, and look forward to speaking to you soon.
Covering letter with CV
Having spent the time to perfect your covering letter, it’s important that your CV delivers on the promises that you have made. Both documents should be tailored to their audience and the position that you’re applying for, and they need to work in harmony:
- Never mention anything about your personal skills that isn’t also in your covering letter
- Make sure everything you highlight in your covering letter is relatively easy to find in the CV you submit
- Using the same font and formatting in both documents will look extra professional
- Aim for consistency in the formality of both documents
- When posting your application, staple or hole-punch your documents together in the upper left corner
- When emailing your application, include your CV as an attachment, but put your covering letter in the main body of the email
For best results, follow the Office Angels guide to writing a tip top CV. Within the same area of our website, you will also find advice for other aspects of your job search such as best practice for interviews.
Remember, you can always talk to our friendly and highly skilled recruitment advisors for advice when applying for your ideal job.