7 Steps to Creating an Interview Winning Covering Letter

By David Smith

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Going back in time, in the days when you applied for work in response to a Job Centre vacancy or an ad in the newspaper. Oh yes, when dragons roamed the land and the internet was a distant dream! You would often find the term ‘Apply with CV and Covering Letter…’

Actually, you still see this term, but the actual meaning of the term ‘Covering Letter’ has changed a little.  Originally, you would print, yes print your CV and a Covering letter and fold them up in an envelope with a 1st Class stamp affixed and send it off.  

If you are under thirty, you may be thinking ‘How Quaint!!’

I reckon that there are still a few Die Hard employers who like to get a CV through the post along with an enclosed letter [some employers still ask for a handwritten covering letter…I saw this only last week, which perhaps prompted me to write this post] but most advertised vacancies require an email or a file upload.  Does that mean that the covering letter is dead?

Covering Letters Re-Invented?

The simple answer is ‘No!’  The long answer is that not only are covering letters still required, they are a vital element of your job seeking arsenal. 

Initially, you should have two types of covering note.  One that is a general, off-the-peg type of letter that you will use to introduce your CV when you make a speculative approach to an employer. Obviously, you would tweak this here and there to suit the job type or company you are approaching.

The second version is often heavily edited before sending as this is the one you would send when applying for specific vacancies.  What is the difference between these two?

When making a speculative approach, you have no idea whether there are any jobs available, and if there are jobs going, what type of work is available?  You can’t be too specific here, but you should aim to appeal to the reader and encourage them to click on your CV and look a bit further.

When applying for an advertised vacancy, your opening note or email should reveal that you have read the Job Specification, you should include any references that identify the role to the recruiter [they may be advertising more than one vacancy] you understand what experience and skills are essential and desirable and that you meet the criteria sufficiently to make an application.

Just an additional tip, help the recruiter out by letting them know where you have seen the vacancy, they may use more than one avenue of advertising and this information helps them to identify the most effective route.

Delivering the Information

You must take great care when presenting your covering letter.  It is very tempting to adopt a very outdated approach when emailing a CV to attach the CV and just type ‘Please find attached my current CV..’  Whatever you do, avoid this at all costs.  I still see this being done and it is impersonal, perhaps even going so far as to say ‘Rude!’

Similarly, I have also seen people go to great trouble to create a covering letter, only to attach the letter in the form of a Word document or similar, leaving the entire email body blank.  Is this acceptable? Let me just ask what you would do with an email that was blank with two attachments? There is a really good chance that an email like this would be intercepted only to be found languishing in your spam folder three weeks later. Don’t let this happen to you.

By all means, create your document in a Word document, but then paste the text into either the email body or the data field if using a job board or other web portal to apply for the vacancy.  Get the information in front of the person likely to read it…don’t make them feel as though clicking on the attachment will destroy their hard drive or infect the whole network!

Seven Key Ingredients to Add to the Mix and Get Invited to Interview

Tailor the Letter for each application: Someone who is reading CVs and introductory letters as often as recruiters do will spot a copy-and-paste job every time. You may feel happy with the content and layout of your document generally, but it should always be tailored to the specific application. It should at least say ‘This candidate understands the Job Specification!’ You should always ensure that the content and tone of the letter is in keeping with the job and company you are approaching.

Give the reader a reason to read on:  You may know why you are the ideal candidate for this job and you may know why you would love to work for this company. Help the recruiter connect the dots and realise how your skills and experience dovetail with the job requirements.

Don’t show all your cards at once:  Don’t reveal all before it is time to do so.  In the interview, you will be asked all kinds of questions around your weaknesses, reasons for leaving your current role and salary expectations, so save it for the interview.  In some cases, you may be asked for some of this information up- front, but if not, hold onto it for later.

What do you bring to the table?  As you build your career, it will always look good if you have worked for Company X or Y, or you have been involved in Project A or B, but really, the company is more interested in how you will increase profits or save money and time. Your covering letter should favour how you will help the company rather than how your CV will look once you have this experience under your belt.

Mix it Up:  Your covering letter is an ideal opportunity to tell the recruiter something that you would have liked to include in your CV if you had the space. Rather than repeat what is in your CV, tell them something else – or at least use the space to draw their attention to something in your CV that you really want them to notice.

Syntax, grammar, spelling: Check, double check and triple check your job search documents, if you are unsure, run the spell check, ask someone to proof read it.  Be thorough, any mistakes that slip through could be the difference between an invitation to interview and a rejection letter.

Watch the Length:  OK, so you have an opportunity to expand on your CV a little.  Don’t make your covering letter another CV though, stick to three or four paragraphs.

I hope this was useful to you! You can always send feedback via a tweet @Careervisa - connect on Linkedin, or just email me on dave@careervisa.co.uk

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