Job seeker’s often put a huge amount of focus into writing a world beating resume. Indeed a whole industry has been built around the importance of this vital document, with professional CV writers flourishing in these trying times, as those looking for work look to get ahead of their competition.
However, focusing your energies on crafting a great CV, whilst obviously advisable, is a complete waste of time if you rush your covering letter. As the cover letter is effectively the first contact you’ll have with your prospective employers getting it right is essential.
Imagine if a company were to spend so much of its budget on developing an amazing new product that it had no money left over to advertise or distribute it. They’d go out of business very quickly, regardless of how innovative their creation may have been. Neglecting you covering letter and trusting that your CV will be enough to get you an interview is a similar sort of mistake to make.
Fortunately, there are some simple principles you can stick to in order to avoid making a mess of your covering letter.
Address Your Letter Correctly
You may assume this goes without saying, but addressing your letter correctly goes well beyond ensuring it reaches the company you are interested in. You need to make sure that the person best placed to recruit you is the one opening the envelope, especially if you’ve made a speculative application.
Normally, if you are replying to an advertised vacancy, you’ll be told to whom to send your application to. If you are not, do a little research to find out who best to target. This can be as easy as simply phoning in and asking, or visiting the businesses’ website.
If in doubt, generally the two best options will be the head of HR and the head of the department you’d ideally be working in. Find out the names of these people and use them to address your application. Don’t just use their job titles. Remember, as long as you don’t over do it too drastically, there’s nothing to stop you sending multiple copies to different people.
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It’s hard to overstate just how important this is. You cannot afford to ramble on in your covering letter. If a good CV has to be short and sweet, with one page being a good target, a covering letter has to be even more to the point. In fact you should attempt to use no more than 5-6 paragraphs, total.
You cannot afford to waste words. Two common ways applicants often do just that is to open with a long winded introduction explaining that they are writing to apply for a job (this should be pretty obvious without a lengthy explanation) and then just regurgitating their CV. There is no need to this. If your letter is good, they will read your CV anyway.
Content is King
As previously stated, you don’t have much space in which to convince your reader that you are an able candidate, with the skills for the job and a personal ethos that matches perfectly with that of the company. For that reason, you can’t afford to make any vague, lightweight or unsubstantiated claims.
For example, describing yourself as “a highly motivated, results driven salesperson” is a bit of an empty statement. You’re much better off saying something like “In my last post I exceeded my annual sales target by 70%.”
This second statement is about the same length, but you get much more bang for your buck. It demonstrates a proven track record, gives a numerical figure (these have been shown to stick in the mind easier than words) and, on top of that, it implies every single word of the first sentence, without eating up the word count.
The Russian writer Chekov gave the flowing advice to aspiring authors; “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” When it comes to a covering letter, don’t tell them you have a set of attributes, show them the proof.
Use a Call to Action
This is a trick from the advertising world. Studies have shown that commercials that end with an instruction (“call now to order”, for instance) are more likely to arouse a response from viewers than those that don’t.
As your letter is basically an advertisement for your own employability, it makes sense that you too should adopt this tactic, even if it should just result in a closing line as simple as “please do not hesitate to contact me to discuss my application further.”
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