How to write a cover letter - how to set out and what to include in a covering letter

how to write a cover letter
These days no CV is complete without sending a cover letter to go with it. The covering letter is just as important as the CV itself in that it is a way of introducing yourself to the employer in a less formal manner than in your CV.

Your CV is a rigid and impersonal document, whilst your covering letter should show you as a real person rather than just another name on a piece of paper.
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An impressive covering letter, will spark interest and give you a head start above the other candidates. Your CV is more likely to be placed at the top of the pile rather than at the bottom (where it would possibly go if received without a cover letter!).

As there are certain rules that apply to writing CVs, there are also a number of important dos and don'ts when writing the cover letter. Read the following information to give you a better idea of what to say, and more importantly what not to say in your covering letter.

Format

Your cover letter should be set out on one side of A4 paper, preferably the same paper that you use to write your CV.

It should be set out in the same style as a business letter, with your name, address, telephone number and email address on the top left-hand side, followed by the date and then the employer's name, company name and business address.

Your cover letter should be brief, written in simple language using a simple sentence structure. It should be no more than five paragraphs, with each paragraph being two or three sentences long. The whole letter should be approximately 200 words with plenty of white space so that it is easy to read and there should be absolutely no spelling or grammatical errors, or stains or smudges on the paper.

Address to a real person

The worst way to start your cover letter is with the phrase "Dear Sir" or "To whom it may concern".

Go out of your way to find out the name of a specific person to address your CV to. It should be someone in management, someone with hiring power or someone who can refer you to the person with the hiring power. You can use the Internet or library to try and find out the name of the hiring manager or even just call up the company and ask.

Starting the cover letter with the name of the correct person shows that you are focused, determined to get an interview and that you pay attention to detail - all good qualities for any job.

Grab their attention

Start with a punchy first line that is sure to grab the reader's attention and entice them to read more.

Explain the reason for contact, how you found out about the position/company and what you have to offer. If you are responding to a job vacancy advert, make sure that you mention which post you are interested in and specifically how your particular skills and background relate to that specific vacancy.

If you are sending your CV to the company in the hope that they may have a job for you, then say why you want to work for that company, as opposed to all the others. Show that you have the knowledge about their company through research and say what you can do for them and not what they can do for you.

Give a few examples of reasons why that company might be interested in giving you a job and back them up with proof of qualifications or achievements.
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Take action

A common mistake that people make when they send out their CVs is that they then sit back and wait for things to happen. More often than not they are left waiting a long time.

It is essential these days that you ask for a meeting and that you tell the employer that you will follow up the receipt of your CV with a phone call in a week's time, for example. Ensure that you stick to what you say.

Finally

If you are unsure as to how to set out your cover letter, there is nothing wrong with copying the format and layout from one of the many free example cover letters that you can find in books or on the Internet. It is very important that you make sure that the cover letter that you write applies to you personally, and that it is not obvious that it has been written for a different situation.

Try to write an original cover letter for each company that you write to. They should not be exactly the same with just a few words changed here and there.

Similarly, try to create a cover letter that enhances the CV and is not just a shorter version of it. There is no point having two documents that are more or less exactly the same.

Signing off

Just like the main body of the cover letter, keep the ending brief and to the point.

Remember that after reading your final phrase, you want the employer to immediately rush to look at your CV.

Sign off with "Yours Sincerely", "Yours", "Sincerely", "Kind Regards" or something similar and then finish off with your signature followed by your typed name underneath.


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