Covering letters - the basics

PUBLISHED: 13:16 09 February 2006 | UPDATED: 09:37 06 May 2010

A COVERING letter isn t just the piece of paper you wrap your CV up in. It is the first rung on the ladder of your marketing assault on the job market. And like it or not, you re a commodity, and if you aren t able to sell yourself, you won t be much use

A COVERING letter isn't just the piece of paper you wrap your CV up in. It is the first rung on the ladder of your marketing assault on the job market.

And like it or not, you're a commodity, and if you aren't able to sell yourself, you won't be much use to an employer fighting to survive in a competitive marketplace.

You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

The recipient of your letter will read it and form judgments about your personality and your suitability for the job.

Use it as a chance to highlight your strengths and any experience that is relevant to the job. Pick out points from your CV and elaborate on them.

Bad covering letters come in all forms - from the embarrassing to the dull, "Please consider me for the job as 'x'. I enclose my CV".

The applicant hasn't put any effort in - so however good their CV is, it will probably just end up in the bin, unread.

Another bugbear is the standard letter. It's always obvious when the candidate has just changed the name and job details and it doesn't give you much confidence in their enthusiasm for the job.

Some candidates let themselves down with messy handwriting or poor spelling. Before you put pen to paper - or fingers to keyboard - you should bear in mind the three Cs. Organisations prefer Conciseness and Clarity over Comprehensiveness.

Use just one side of A4, with no more than four paragraphs on it.

Structure your letter in three parts. The first sets the scene and explains why you are writing, the second provides supporting evidence or information about you and is your chance to show what sets you apart from other candidates.

Always accentuate the positive - for example, if you didn't get a class of degree that reflected your ability, highlight the amount of time you spent on student activities. The third part is for next steps, such as 'I look forward to hearing from you'.

When you've finished your letter, read it carefully. Have you got your main points across? Do you sound like a good, interesting candidate?

Then show it to someone else for comments, such as a careers adviser.

And always keep a copy of your letter, so you don't get caught out at interview.

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