4.2 What to include in a covering letter
A good place to catch a new employer’s attention, particularly if you are applying speculatively, is in your covering letter, i.e. the letter you write to accompany your CV. If you’re sending your CV online, this could be your introductory email.
If you’re applying with an application form, a covering letter is less likely to be a requirement. The form has usually been carefully designed by the organisation to ask you everything they need to know, so a letter isn’t needed.
White (no date) offers top tips on writing covering letters, including those shown in Box 3.
Box 3 Covering letter top tips
- Don’t rewrite your CV – just provide edited highlights and aim to distil the key themes.
- Talk about the company – tell them what you are impressed with and what attracts you to them.
- Provide specific evidence of your qualities – pick out the main qualities the employer is seeking in their advert and show that you have them. Provide concrete examples and solid numbers wherever you can.
- Reflect your personality – ensure the letter shows how motivated and enthusiastic you are. Do not include negative comments.
- Relevant and brief – a well-written letter should draw the recruiter’s eye to relevant experience on your CV. Ensure it is never more than a page long.
- Contact details – wherever possible, send your letter and CV to a named individual. It will look a lot better than ‘Dear sir/madam’.
- Neatness/presentation – make sure your covering letter is clearly laid out with no typos or spelling errors.
Activity 4 is an opportunity for you to practise writing a covering letter.
Activity 4 Writing a strong covering letter
Imagine you are applying for a part-time job in a local café. You’ve already done your research and read some excellent reviews. You know from personal experience that it has a good reputation and it is hard to get a table. Whenever you’ve been there, the atmosphere and service has been great and the food is delicious. You’ve followed them on Facebook for a few months and their posts indicate a good sense of humour and a genuine interest in cakes and pastries. They’ve hinted that they are looking to expand the team.
Now write a covering letter to accompany your CV.
Think about any skills and/or experience that you have that would be relevant for this post and refer to those in your letter. As this is an imaginary exercise, make up the details if that is easier for you.
The aim of this activity is to familiarise you with the content of a good covering letter, so it doesn’t matter if you’ve embellished a few details for the exercise! However, when you are applying for a real work experience opportunity, if you really have nothing specific to say in your covering letter – about them as an employer or how your skills align with what they are looking for – you might be applying for the wrong job.
With this example, there was lots of scope to share what you’ve learned about the employer and link that with why you want to work for them. For example:
As you can see from my CV, I already have four years of part-time café experience, working my way up from kitchen porter to my recent role supervising new staff. I’ve followed you on social media for a few months now and I’m really excited by your obvious passion for new and innovative cakes and pastries. In my spare time I love to bake and would be keen to contribute ideas and learn from your experience.
This paragraph not only draws attention to your previous relevant experience but highlights the fact that you have progressed to a more responsible position and demonstrates your shared enthusiasm for baking.
Now that you’ve mastered a good covering letter, you can move on to the application itself. There’s less to say about tailoring application forms as they are designed by the employer so you must carefully follow their instructions and answer the questions asked. While you can, of course, still tailor your answers to what you have learned about their priorities, in a CV there is more scope to make it your own and structure it to highlight the key skills and experience you want an employer to notice.
There are several types of CV that might be used in different circumstances, but one that is potentially useful if you don’t have a lot of relevant experience yet, is the skills-based CV. You’ll look at that next.