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Cover Letters; do I need one and how do I write one?

Some people may think that a cover letter is unnecessary. However it's an excellent method to use to further highlight your skills regardless of whether you're sending a CV or application form. So really consider a cover letter a must when applying for jobs. And consider it another opportunity of illustrating your experience. In fact, in some cases if the cover letter is not well written, your CV will not even be read. If you decide not to send a cover letter with your CV, imagine the fact that most other applicants will have done so. If you want a sure-fire way of your CV going in the bin, then do not write a cover letter.

Different Types of Cover Letter

There are also three types of cover letter depending upon your situation. There's the advert response cover letter, the speculative cover letter and the email cover letter. We shall cover all three here and they all share similar requirements; essentially each one is the first thing a recruiter or potential employer will read about you.

One similarity between all three cover letters is that it's a great opportunity for you to use and show your personality. It's unlikely that your CV will illustrate your character as it's more informative in style and potentially less personal than a letter, so use your cover letter to express who you are and what you can do for the company given the opportunity.

The second similarity is that cover letters need to be short and concise. No two-pagers here! Just one page or if it's an email cover letter, make sure it's short enough that the person reading it will not have to scroll down the page. Remember the idea is to introduce yourself in a more personal way and ensure your CV gets read as soon as they've finished reading your cover letter.

In any case, do not be afraid of using bullet points in your cover letter. Short paragraphs and white space will make your cover letter easy to read or scan before they move onto your CV.

Advert Response Cover Letter

The first thing to do when writing a cover letter in response to an advert is to make sure you address the letter correctly. So check the person's name and ensure the address itself is correct (and this applies to the envelope too).

If you're applying you must feel that your experience and skills match what the job advert is asking for. So if they are asking for 8 years of accountancy experience and you only have 4 years experience, then it's probably not worth applying. However if your experience matches well, then the cover letter is your tool to show the employer that you can do this job.

Use a short title or the first paragraph to show which advert you're responding to, the date of the advert, where it was advertised and any reference number the company have stated in the advert.

The introduction should be short and succinct and generally introduce your interest in the company and the role they're advertising for. It's best to customise this part for each job advert you're responding to as it's lazy not to and can be the difference between being seen for interview and your application going in the bin.

The next part can be a set out as a paragraph, although it may work better using bullet points. This section can draw the reader in if you make it clear using bullet points - this is the part where you show you've read the advert and can illustrate how your experience matches what they're asking for.

For example, if the advert asks for the ability to manage multiple projects, make sure your cover letter shows you can multitask effectively. Look at each of the essential skills in the advert and using bullet points show them that you match their requirements.

Then you have a final paragraph which again is quite short. In your closing statement you should say what you are going to do next. Usually there is a closing date on the advert so you won't need to call to follow up. So you could simply say that you look forward to hearing from them and that your CV with full details of your experience is enclosed.

Speculative Cover Letter

This is a different type of letter to a company as they may not be advertising and indeed may not even have any roles. However do not try to cut corners by sending out generic cover letters for speculative applications as they're easy to spot and will not drive the reader to look at our CV.

Another aspect which is important is making sure you address your letter to the right person. Check their website or call the company and ask who the best person to send your CV to is. If you send a letter not addressed to anyone at all, then it's unlikely to be read by anyone!

More often that not, either you've researched the company and know you want to work for them or someone has recommended that you contact them. So this is how you open your cover letter.

The format for this cover letter will be the same as for an advert response cover letter so you'll usually have an opening and closing paragraph with some bullet points in the middle showing your core skills.

The opening paragraph will be different to an application in response to an advert because you need to say why you're sending them your details. This time if someone has recommended you write then say so. 'Bob Hawkins recommended I send you my details after meeting him at a trade fair last week' is a good way to introduce your enclosed CV. Alternatively you could write that you're looking for a new career move and have recognised that XYZ company could be an excellent company to work for as they always come top in the regional best employer awards. This shows the company that you know something about them.

The second part is the same (as in the advert response cover letter); use bullet points to put across in an easy fashion your core skills and experience that are relevant to the organisation. Do your research and align your skills and background with their needs. Careers pages on corporate websites often show what types of people companies look for even of they're not advertising at the moment.

The final paragraph needs to detail what your next move is. If you have the name or department to whom you're sending your CV to, then outline that you'll call them to follow up on your application. Do not write this if you have no intention of following up by phone though. Tell them also that your CV is enclosed as they may not have taken the CV out of the envelope; sounds silly but it happens!

Email Cover Letter

More and more recruiters and potential employers use email as opposed to normal mail for receiving applications and CVs. You can therefore use email also to send either a response to an advert or a speculative application. If you're responding to an advert, often directions of how you should apply are included in the advert so make sure you follow them. If they state to email with a particular reference in the Subject line of the email, then do this.

Another hint is to email your application to yourself or to someone you know well first before sending it for real. This way you can spot any potential problems with your email. It is amazing how many people send applications without remembering to attach their CV or documents requested in the advert.

The email itself should be used as a cover letter so utilise this further vehicle to sell yourself. However, unlike a letter where paragraphs are used, only use bullet points or short sentences. Ideally, you don't want the person receiving the email to have to scroll down the page to finish reading your email. The idea is to whet their appetite to open your attached CV or application as soon as possible.

The bullet points should cover your skill set and experience with direct reference to the advert so essentially this part is the same as the written cover letter.

Another hint is to include your phone number after your name at the bottom, just in case they cannot open your attachment. You do not, however, need to write out your email address also as they'll have this anyway from the fact you've sent them an email.

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