Posted On 26th February 2012

Does anyone read covering letters? I would say it depends. Let’s turn the question on its head: is your covering letter worth reading?

Covering letters are probably the most neglected tool in the job seeker’s box. Too often people send letters of the “please find my CV herewith variety” and in so doing, deprive themselves of an opportunity to sell themselves to the employer. Yet it should be one of the jewels in their job application – something that catches the eye and engages the attention of its audience.

A covering letter does not have to be long. In fact, even with all the headings required of a good formal letter, it should not run to more than a side and a half of A4. However, in the few short paragraphs that gives you, you should pick out the salient points from the job advert or description and hammer home to the reader why you are right for the job. Complementing your CV, this is where you say “hire me” – I meet your criteria and this is the evidence that proves it.

It is also an opportunity to show your research. One of the key things that an employer wants to know is that you fit in. Especially if you are not simply seeking a move from one of their direct competitors, you need to put over that you understand their world and what it involves. If you can, show that you have some direct experience, even if it is not as an employee. The simplest example is that if you aspire to work for a charity, solid experience as a volunteer will never hurt. You need to give confidence that you are the right person for the job.

More importantly, show enthusiasm. Even though there is some inevitable truth in this, no-one wants to hire someone just because they “need the money”. They want people who are interested in their business or organisation, who come with ideas and who are keen to join in its success. A flat covering letter will never do that. Enthusiasm alone is not enough – but it can carry you a long way.

Finally, as you stare at a blank screen, wondering what to say, remember that you should write for the reader, not yourself. What do I mean? This is not a place simply to relate a standard list of things that you think makes you a good candidate or the key highlights of your career. What you say should be tailored to the reader’s requirements and answer the need they have for employing a new member of staff. Meet these – and possibly explain steps you will take to meet those for which your skills are less obviously matched – and you will dramatically improve your chances of getting through the door.

Writing a good covering letter requires thought and a succinct turn of phrase to include everything you want to say. You need to make time for it: it may even take a draft or two to get to something you like. If this isn’t appealing, the good news is that there are companies like Richmond Solutions who do this all the time, with proven results. If you would like to see how it’s done and give your job hunt a kick-start, give us a call.

Heidi Nicholson

Richmond Solutions believes all its clients are individuals and has a highly tailored and customised approach to its work. To see what our clients think, please see our case studies.

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