For any recruiter or potential employer, the quality of a covering letter provides vital clues regarding the communication ability and professionalism of an applicant, yet few job seekers have any idea of how to draft an effective one. As a starting point, it is advisable to reflect on the purpose of this document, which is essentially to introduce yourself and to present your application documentation (generally your CV)It is also important to consider what a covering letter is not, and this includes the following five points:

  • It is not an opportunity to “wax on” about your essentially subjective view of your own merits
  • It is not an essay, it is a letter.
  • It is not the place to list all your qualifications or to detail your work experience, for these are presented in your CV
  • It is not the appropriate avenue to request an interview or to beg for a face to face meeting, for this will be the result of an objective CV screening process
  • It is not a “standard” document – it needs to be re-formulated and adapted to each position for which you apply.

The style and register of covering letters are common problem areas. The context is formal and it appears that many applicants struggle with the practical application of this and lapse into wording which is overdone, inappropriate and often verbose. The bottom line is: keep it simple, concise and relevant.

Content should be logical and organized. The subject line should mention the post for which you are applying and list the appropriate reference number if applicable. In opening, it is appropriate to state that you would like to apply for or are submitting your application for the above position. You might also mention where it was advertised.

The “heart” of the letter should briefly comment on your match to the qualifications, skills and experience that are required in the job advert. This should be done in a way which makes the recruiter keen to check your CV. It is to be remembered that most jobs elicit a huge pool of respondents, but generally few candidates meet all of the required criteria.

A letter should contain an opening, a middle section and an end. Your conclusion, in keeping with the rest of the letter, should be simple and succinct and might be a one liner such as “I look forward to hearing from you in this regard” It is appropriate to end the letter with: “Yours sincerely” followed by your first name and surname. If your letter is longer than a typed page, it requires editing (unless the stated instructions in the advert required more). Review it, check it, ensure that it flows, attach your CV and submit it.

Furthermore file a copy of the advert for future reference in anticipation of a positive response – imagine phoning a candidate to organise a job interview and picking up that the individual concerned cannot recall which one the job was.. It is essentially a simple application document, yet one which few job seekers, at any level, master.

One of Jennifer’s speciality areas is career documentation. She does CV and cover letter compilation for clients at all levels.