If your CV is the sales brochure promoting ‘Product You’, then your Cover Letter is the flyer that accompanies it. Whether you are applying for a part-time job, work experience, or an apprenticeship, this is an eye-catching introduction to whet the appetite of any recruiter or employer, leaving them wanting to find out more from your CV and from you in person at interview.
What is a Cover Letter?
The headlines – A Cover Letter endorses your CV and is the first thing that a potential employer (or recruiter) will see when you apply for a position.
An explanation – It is a brief introduction to set the scene before they take a look at your full application. And if you apply for something which has not been advertised, your Cover Letter will also tell the employer why you have sent them your CV.
An early chance to impress – Most of all, a Cover Letter is a chance to stand out from the crowd and persuade a potential employer (or recruiter) to put you through to the next stage – ideally an interview.
Make it relevant
Show you understand the role – Try and demonstrate that you have understood what you are applying for, rather than just sending a standard letter.
Tell them why you are a good match – Specifically, tell them why you’re a good fit for the role and the company. It helps the employer to understand quickly and easily, as well as showing that you have thought about your application. If you haven’t made this simple for them, you risk your application landing on the discard pile.
Summarise your key achievements – To do this, use your Cover Letter to evidence how your key skills meet the needs of the business. If they mention organisational skills in the advert, include this here and provide a relevant example. Cherry-pick the best bits from your CV.
How do you structure your Cover Letter?
A Cover Letter can be divided into three sections (ideally one paragraph each) and – just as for your CV – please make time to double-check the spelling and grammar before sending it. Then, instead of “Dear Sirs” at the start, try and find out who your CV is being sent to and how they should be addressed: Mrs, Miss, or Dr, for example.
The opening paragraph shows confidence – Use this to show that you have done your research and know exactly who they are and what they are advertising for. You could say: “Dear Mr(s) [Hiring Manager’s name], I enclose my CV and/or application for the position of [named job] with [company name] starting on [date].
It is also a chance to mention where you heard about the opportunity, such as: “[named person known to employer] suggested that I contact you…” or “I heard about the advert when I attended your open evening last week …”.
The middle section explains the benefits you offer – Tell them very briefly how you will add value to their business, highlighting any of your skills they are looking for. Remember to match your skills to their advert and so keep it relevant and make the most impact.
Grab their attention with the most relevant achievements and experience from your CV. You could try: “My A-Level courses in [named subject(s)] have prepared me for this position as they require a great deal of independent research, initiative and self-motivation. In addition, my extra-curricular activities have given me a wide range of relevant skills for this role including strong team leadership skills having been in the school cadets for four years including two as sergeant. I also have a good understanding of the [named industry sector] from recent work experience with [named relevant employer] where I spent time doing [relevant experience].”
Finish your Cover letter by thanking them – In your final paragraph, thank the employer (or recruiter) for considering your CV, look forward to the hearing back from them and having an opportunity to meet them to discuss this in person. By now they should be interested in your application and looking forward to reading your CV.
And what if you need to send it electronically?
It is increasingly likely that you will be asked to either attach your CV and Cover Letter to an online application – or attach both to an email. In both cases, all of the above still applies. However, if the email itself becomes your Cover Letter and you attach only your CV, there are a few slight adjustments. Emails are written slightly differently and so here are a few tips to consider:
Professional address – Send it from a smart-looking address rather than your fun email.
Formal style – Use a formal salutation (e.g. Mrs XXXX) rather than their first name unless you know them.
Keep it extremely brief – No-one wants to have to scroll down a lengthy email and may be put off as a result.
Use bold font sparingly – Ideally only to highlight keywords that will catch their eye – e.g. team-player.
Bulletpoints – These could work if you have a lot of really relevant benefits to highlight.
Show a responsible adult – Let them take a look before you hit ‘send’ to get their first impression.
Keep attachments small – Large items can take time to receive and could fill their inbox.
Time of day – Consider the best time to send it based on your knowledge of the business activities.
And finally …
To have the most impact and get noticed, address your Cover Letter to the hiring manager, ensure there aren’t any spelling mistakes or grammatical errors, keep it brief (e.g. just one side of A4 paper) and either add a handwritten signature if sending it by post – or an electronic copy of your signature if sending by email.
Always send what they’ve requested, whether that is the number of pages, the content, or format (e.g. email). And be wary of spending hours on perfecting your CV at the expense of checking and refining your Cover Letter. you don’t want to miss the opportunity to grab their attention from the start!
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