A good covering letter introduces you to the employer and explains why you are one of the best candidates applying for the jobs advertised. By avoiding the following no-nos, you can create a covering letter that stands out from the crowd.
Forgetting to proofread your letter for errors and tone before you send it.
Make sure your letter has no spelling, typing, or grammatical errors. Job applicants are frequently deselected because of such mistakes.
Addressing the letter to the wrong person.
Call the company and find out the name and title of the person to whom you should address your letter. It shows initiative and resourcefulness, and will impress your reader that you figured out a way to address them personally. Use their name and title and don't try to guess their gender.
Using someone else's words.
Make sure that your letter sounds like you, not like something out of a book. Covering letters, as well as CVs, should be accurate reflections of your personality. Employers are looking for knowledge, enthusiasm, and focus.
Betraying your ignorance about the company and the industry.
This is where your research comes in. Don't go overboard - just make it clear that you didn't pick this company out of the phone book. You know who they are, what they do, and you have chosen them.
Being too informal.
Promote yourself as a professional. Your letter should be as close to a business proposal as you can get - not a plea for an interview. What do you offer that is of value? What objectives can you help them achieve?
Talking too much about yourself.
Downplay 'I' and emphasise 'you'. Try to convert 'I haves' into 'you wants' for the employer. What can you do for the organisation that will create interest and arouse a desire for an interview with you?
Being too cocky.
If you meet all the stated requirements for the job, spell this out in your letter - but don't lay it on too thick. Accentuate the good match between your skills and their needs.
Structure your letter so that each part achieves a particular goal. State the purpose of your letter in your opening paragraph. Keep the letter organised. Decide on the focus of your letter and ensure that all points reinforce the topic.
Draw attention to your skills and attributes by underlining them, bolding them, or indenting them in lists with bullets. You have to be careful with underlining because the line is often printed too close to the word, and reduces its readability. Use these kinds of emphasis sparingly just to make the highlights stand out when the reader gives your letter a quick skim.
Droning on too long.
Keep it simple and clean - not cluttered. Use no more than seven lines, and preferably five or fewer, per paragraph. Vary the sentence length. None of the sentences should be very long, but you don't want a staccato stream of very short sentences. One page is the maximum for letters.
Send original letters. Don't send copies that look mass-produced. Don't use typewriters or dot matrix printers and never hand-write your letter.
Forgetting to include a copy of your CV.
Remember that the one purpose for a covering letter is to get your CV into the hands of the employer and to obtain an interview.
Enclosing a photo.
Unless you are seeking employment in modelling, acting, or other performance industries, it is not appropriate to send a photograph with your covering letter. An employer will see what you look like, should you reach the interview stage. Until then, a photo won't help you get a foot in the door.
Forgetting to ask.
If you don't ask... The primary goal of your covering letter is to get an interview. Be sure to ask for one at the end of your covering letter. Be prepared to initiate the follow-up communication yourself and let your prospective employer know you will be doing this. This may be just enough to get them to hold onto your letter and give it a more thorough reading.
Writing a great cover letter
When writing a cover letter you need to take into account that many employers and recruitment professionals see hundreds of them. Too short and a cover letter will come across as rushed. On the other hand an overly long cover letter drives would-be employers crazy as they want to get on with reading your CV.
How do you get the balance right?
- Find the right length. If your cover letter runs over a single page, then you should seriously consider cutting it down. If you keep it too short, then you might have forgotten to include some vital information. Two or three concise paragraphs at the most are generally considered the ideal length for a truly successful cover letter.
- Keep it fresh. Keep each cover letter you write up to date. You don't need to rewrite from scratch each time, but each letter should have some personal touch which communicates that you are serious about the particular job on offer.
- Address correctly. A cover letter should be addressed properly and to the right person. Check what the application says and ensure that you begin with the right name.
- Be concise. Although a cover letter is a chance to highlight key points which you might want to draw out from your CV, keep such communications brief and to the point. A cover letter should not repeat what can be found in the CV, but it can summarise key points.
- Be formal. A fully formal letter mean signing it off correctly even if you know the person you are writing to. It also means you should add both your address and that of the company you are applying to.
- Tailor each letter. As well as being personalised, all cover letters must be tailored to the sector or company you are applying to work for. Don't highlight things which are not relevant to the position just because your cover letter template was written for another sort of employer.
- Remember the details. Once your cover letter is composed, make sure you have included all the essentials. This includes the date, any job reference number that might be needed, your telephone number and your email address – even if you are emailing your application.
- Avoid clichés. You may be 'hard working' or 'diligent', but these are things everyone tends to say. Try to find a unique way of expressing yourself or leave out such self-description all together.
- End positively. Before you sign off, add a simple sentence which says something upbeat. For instance, you could say how much you look forward to finding out more about the role or that you welcome a positive response.
- Check it. After writing your letter, get on with another task and come back to it. This will help you to proofread it better and to pick out typographical errors and spelling mistakes more effectively.
When your cover letter is finished, it should be ready to attach to your CV and send off.