When applying for new jobs it is essential to submit a covering letter with your CV. Read on to find out the scenarios when it is appropriate to provide cover letters and the basic principles you should follow.
Covering letters are vital if you want your application to be seriously considered and not overlooked. Most employers will expect to receive a covering letter and without this, your application is unprofessional and incomplete.
Your cover letter is an introduction to what you intend to achieve by contacting the company and a good reference for your contact details (although it is appropriate to put these somewhere on your CV also in case the cover letter is misplaced).
The most important job your cover letter will do is to highlight the reasons you are the ideal candidate for that role, and emphasise your motivation for applying to that particular company which will more than likely flatter the prospective employer into looking favourably at your CV.
These days many job applications are completed by email. You can use these principles to write the email and attach your CV, or indeed consider the cover letter as an email where you wouldn’t send your CV attached to an email without something on the email.
When to Include a Cover Letter
Cover letters are appropriate if you are sending your CV to anyone including:
- Recruitment agencies (identify what type of work you are looking for)
- When submitting your CV to a company ‘blind’, for example, if they haven’t advertised a vacancy but you post your CV on the off-chance.
- Applying for advertised job vacancies. Even if they have asked you to fill in and post a form it is a good idea to send a Cover Letter as well.
Your CV will be generally the same for most job applications, perhaps tweaked here and there to identify different strengths, but your Cover Letter will probably look very different for every application.
Recruitment Agency cover letters
Agencies usually make their money from prospective employers once they have placed a suitable candidate with them. This means that the more candidates they have on their books to choose from, the happier they will be.
Recruitment agencies will therefore do everything they can to sell your unique talents and experience to an employer. Your cover letter is required to identify what sort of work you are looking for, and what skills you have that will suit that career.
When you speak to the recruitment consultant instead of asking irrelevant questions your carefully worded cover letter will give them an insight into what you are looking for so they can prepare some likely jobs or ask the appropriate questions during the meeting.
Your wording in this respect is important though as you don’t want to be overlooked for positions in a similar field just because you didn’t list it on your cover letter. For example, if your career ambition is to become a Website Designer then don’t simply state you are only looking for trainee web design posts, clearly communicate that you are IT literate, have a good range of web-related skills and would like to work in that industry. You will then be considered for a wide range of different job roles, one of which may lead to a company that is prepared to train you in that specific post after a year of working in administration. (Note that companies are much more likely to train up someone from scratch from an internal transfer rather than an unknown candidate).
If they don’t have the type of work you are looking for then having a better understanding of your career goals and ambitions will let them make suggestions for vacancies they do currently have.
Your initial contact with the recruitment agency will also set a precedent for the interviews you may be put forward for – the agency want you to represent them to the employers, particularly if you are undertaking temporary work, so your professionalism in preparing a coherent and useful cover letter will be favourable.
Include in your Cover letter to the agency whether you are looking for temporary or permanent work.
Blind job applications
If you are contacting a company without any knowledge that they are looking to recruit at present then your Cover Letter needs to identify not only your unique skills and experience but why you have chosen to contact that particular company.
Related: Speculative Cover Letter Examples
There is no harm in flattering someone to set your CV in a good light when it is read, for example identifying a project on their website which was interesting to you or particularly impressive. You are more likely to be successful if you have taken time to research who the person responsible for hiring and firing is, and address the letter to them.
This one-to-one approach is more likely to receive feedback on your CV and a contact name for future correspondence. In many ways, though this process is down to luck as to whether you have contacted them when they are about to start searching for an employee. Of course the larger the company or the better your experience, the more likely you are to receive a positive outcome.
If you have not been able to identify the name of the person responsible for recruitment then make sure it is addressed to the HR Manager or Office Manager. As mentioned above, it is more likely to get a response if you have got a name to send it to.
Your cover letter to the company should specify what type of work you are looking for and highlight your skills and the advantages of hiring you over someone else (perhaps you live locally or have experience with a competitor). If you are prepared to do a different role until something that better suits your skills or ambitions arises then let them know that (for example you may have just finished university and want to become an architect, but you are happy to help out with administration in an architectural office until something comes along).
It’s an obvious point but worthwhile reiterating – if you are choosing businesses out of a phone book, for example, make sure they are companies that you actually want to work for. There is no point in making all the effort applying for a possible vacancy and then deciding not to take the job because the company’s ethics aren’t in line with yours.
Cover letters for advertised job vacancies
If you’re applying for a job that has been advertised you are going to be up against a lot of competition for that role. In this situation you have got to make sure that your cover letter and CV stand out from the rest, leaving a positive memorable impact.
You have got to make sure your Cover Letter is well presented and there are no silly grammatical or spelling errors that may eliminate your chances from the beginning.
Highlight exactly why you are an excellent candidate, using all of the tools available to you. That means going through the job description and/or job advert in detail and listing on your Cover Letter which of those skills that they are looking for you already possess. Your CV should also be slim-lined down removing any irrelevant information and listing the skills that you have obtained which are on that job description.
Make sure that your Cover Letter is directed to the person stated on the job advert and follow these simple rules:
- Unless you are applying for a particular artistic job, your Cover Letter should have a professional layout.
- Include your contact details and any information about when you are not available for communication (e.g. I am available to discuss the vacancy after 4 pm any weekday).
- Cover Letters should be no more than a single page, perhaps 4 or 5 paragraphs at the very most. The prospective employer will lose interest in anything longer.
- Using paragraphs breaks up the text making the information easier to digest for the employer. One large bulk of the text is more likely to be ignored.
- Do not simply repeat what is on your CV. Use the Cover Letter to entice the reader to look at your CV to see more about where your experience was received.
- You should finish your letter with “Yours sincerely”
- If you started with “Dear Sir/Madam” then finish with “Yours faithfully”.
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