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Thursday, February 21, 2013

What’s in a Cover Letter?

Written by Jackie Prendergast, this article was first published in Sunday Business Post April 2012

 So you’ve got your new CV all ready to go.  It has been dusted off, polished, and professionalised to ensure it reflects the best of what you have to offer.  Now what?  Well just in the same way that it is important to tailor your CV to the job for which you are applying, it is equally important that the Cover Letter you use to accompany it reflects the job and the situation.

What do I mean by that? And do you really need a cover letter at all? Surely what matters is your CV.  If you had asked me 6 or 7 years ago I would have said it wasn’t all that important.  However, times have changed; employers are inundated with hundreds of CVs, often from very qualified and experienced candidates, so using every tool possible to help you get the job and set you apart from the competition is vital. 

Your Cover Letter is your best opportunity to make a good first impression, so use it wisely.  Grab the reader’s interest with your knowledge of their company and what you can deliver, give them a flavour of you and what sets you apart from others and help them to see clearly why you would fit not just the job, but their culture and values too. 

10 tips to help you get it right:

  1. This is a business letter so set it out as such – with your address on the top right and that of the Company directly below but on the left.
  2.  Include the date, choose a simple font with 11 or 12 pt and black type, use a formal greeting and sign-off and spell check before sending.
  3. Never send a Dear Sir/Madam – research the name of the HR Manager or the most appropriate addressee for your application.
  4. Start by setting your letter in context – how your application has come about e.g. advertised post, through a contact, speculative etc.
  5. Always tailor the letter to suit the job - it should be clear from the letter that you know what the company is about, what they need and what you can do for them.  Remember that this is not a CV summary so keep it short. 
  6. Don’t focus on what you will get out of the deal.
  7. For speculative applications (i.e. no job has been advertised) identify a particular Department or Role where you could really contribute – don’t expect the reader to do this work for you.
  8. State your availability and say that you will follow-up to discuss the next step (and then make sure that you do) before signing off.
  9. Make every work count and never allow your letter to spill on to a 2nd page – 1 is ample.
  10. Lastly, remember this is your introduction.  Be professional and courteous in your tone and make the reader want to read your CV since that is the next step in getting an interview and ultimately, the job.