What is the purpose of a CV covering letter?
Because CVs are often brief and factual in form, they can lack a personal touch. Usefully, CV covering letters allow candidates to introduce themselves and express their enthusiasm for a vacancy, encouraging recruiters to read the full curriculum vitae. Furthermore, cover letters allow candidates to reiterate their experience and skills that will make them ideal for the role they are applying for.
Below you will find plenty of advice on how to structure and format the perfect CV covering letter.
Writing a covering letter is much easier when your CV is of a high standard. If you would like to read more about CV advice from myfuturerole.com, click here.
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Five important things to remember about cover letters
Before you start writing a covering letter for any job application, there are five crucial things you need to note:
- Your covering letter should be succinct, and not exceed a few paragraphs. The contents of your letter should be neatly laid out and easy for the recruiter to navigate and digest. If your covering letter comprises too much information, it’s very unlikely your full CV will be considered. Bolding job titles, or your industry/transferrable skills can be useful for helping recruiters spot your suitable qualities (don’t over utilise bolding in your cover letter though, as you’ll lessen its effectiveness).
- A unique covering letter should be created for each position. To aid your chances of success, you should not use the same cover letter for every job of interest to you. One size does not fit all when it comes to cover letters. If you want your application to be taken seriously – you will need to indicate why each specific role interests you, and why you are a worthy candidate, Your CV will also need to be bespoke for each vacancy (for more on this, see our CV advice).
- Your cover letter should inspire the employer to read your full CV. You should not merely repeat everything mentioned on your CV in your cover letter. Rather, you should summarise your experience and skill set, and indicate how it relates to the job for which you are applying. You want to inspire the employer to read through your curriculum vitae, so you should include confident and enthusiastic statements.
- Remember, your writing and communication style will be evident on your cover letter. While CVs are succinct and do not often allow the author’s writing style to be demonstrated, cover letters do indicate one’s literacy. You should be sure you adopt a suitable (i.e. professional) tone, and be sure to use the spell check and have a friend read over your letter before submission. The chances of your CV being read will decrease should obvious mistakes, such as spelling mistakes, be included in your covering letter.
- Be overt regarding the position for which you are applying for. It is probable that the company is recruiting staff for other positions, not just the one of interest to you, so you should be sure to state exactly which role you’re applying for. It can help to also mention where you found the vacancy in question (i.e. in a newspaper, or on the company’s website).
CV cover letter contents checklist – what to include
Generally speaking, effective covering letters should encompass the following:
- Contact details: Though these should be on your CV, it is best practice to include them to the top of your cover letter. This will help the employer if your curriculum vitae and cover letter inadvertently become separated at any point (a single paperclip or staple can help to prevent this, if you are sending hard copies).
- Have you addressed the letter to somebody specific? Simply addressing the letter to “Sir or Madam “could suggest you have attempted to create a one-size-fits-all covering letter. Consider conducting some research about the company to see who is likely to receive your CV once you have submitted it.
- When can you start work? Stating you are “available immediately” could encourage the employer to seriously consider your CV. Not being overt regarding your availability meanwhile could irk employees at a later stage of the recruitment process, for example, if you’re offered the job but then declare you have a contract to finish elsewhere.
- Have you shown you’re knowledgeable about the company in question? Your CV is far more likely to be perused should you show you understand the company’s position in its industry, since this suggests you have interest in the role beyond the money it offers. You can pay the company a compliment as part of this (“I am interested in working for you because [company name] is the most innovative brand in the market”, for example). Be sure to harbour the knowledge to back up such assertions at the interview stage though!
- Have you explained (in brief) what you can offer the company should your application be successful? You should summarise the attributes which make you a worthy candidate in your cover letter – the recruiter should not have to wade through your CV to find your relevant qualities.
You should avoid writing about any of the above at great length additional information about you and your skill set should already be included within your CV.
Cover letter layouts, structure and formatting
46% of employers prefer half page-long cover letters
19% of employers prefer full page-long cover letters
Source: Saddleback College, ‘The Orange County Resume Survey’ (2010).
From the above statistics, we can conclude that your cover letter should be as succinct as possible, and never exceed one side of A4. But what structure should your job application letter comprise, and how should you format its content?
Cover letter structure – what to discuss in each paragraph
It can be useful to break you covering letter up into four paragraphs, as follows:
- Identify yourself, the position of interest and how/where you discovered the vacancy
- This is the paragraph, in which you need to capture the attention of the employer – don’t wait until the next paragraph to state your suitability for the role (however, paragraph two should be utilised to detail your exact, appropriate skills).
- Summarise your most relevant career and educational achievements to date, in addition to any personal qualities you have, which would be beneficial for the role.
- The key to this paragraph is to detail exactly how you are the solution to the company’s needs (don’t ramble though)
- If you are pursuing the role as part of a career change, be sure to detail your transferrable skills within this paragraph, and why you are seeking change.
- Demonstrate your knowledge of the company, and reiterate why you would make a valuable addition to its team. Do plenty of research in order to avoid holes in your knowledge being discovered at the interview stage.
- In this paragraph, you should avoid merely listing more reasons why you’re a great candidate. Tying your attributes to the company’s current status, or industry progression, will prevent you appearing smug.
- Be sure to state that your full CV is enclosed or attached. You can also promote the location of an online portfolio (or LinkedIn profile), should you have one relevant to your industry.
- Thank the reader for considering your application, and request a follow up communication (“I look forward to hearing more regarding this opportunity”, will suffice). This will indicate enthusiasm and that you want to be considered seriously for the role.
It should be noted the above format may need to be altered slightly, depending on the unique circumstances of your career status and/or the vacancy.
Cover letter formatting tips
Once you’re happy with the contents of your covering letter, you’ll want to apply some formatting to ensure it is easily digested by the employer.
- Never hand-write your CV cover letter – use a word processor: This might seem like an obvious advice, but a surprising number of people still choose to hand-write their covering letters. Using a word processor will not only ensure your letter is legible, but computers are increasingly prevalent and employers expect a certain level of IT proficiency.
- Select a professional, sans-serif font, and use a font size of 11. You may think choosing an attractive font will see your covering letter stand out from other potential candidates but it’s more likely your application won’t be taken seriously. Business fonts, such as Times New Roman, Verdana, and Arial may seem aesthetically boring, but this is exactly the point – prioritise clarity over personal taste. A font which is too large could make you seem childish, while too-small text will strain the eyes of recruiters.
- Consider bullet points. Bullets points can make certain information easier to digest at a glance, and so you might like to consider adopting this style for the information to be included in paragraph two (detailed in the previous section).
Examples of good cover letters
Below you will find links to a number of exemplary example CV cover letters, sourced from around the web:
- Inspiring the employer to read the CV (resume-resource.com): This example is succinct and includes just enough information to inspire the employer to read through the attached CV. The candidate has described her experience as “extensive” without going into detail, and has effectively bolded key points within the document.
- Career gap explanation (templatevenue.com): This cover letter sees the candidate clearly explain why there are gaps in her career history, from a positive angle, i.e. she has explained what she has been up to while out of work. This reassures the employer regarding the candidate’s attitude towards employment.
- University-leaver (docstoc.com): Here we can see how one can demonstrate their passion for an industry and obtain an interest from the employer, even if extensive experience is lacking (thus, encouraging the recruiter to read the enclosed CV).
You don’t always need a covering letter to
secure a job – upload your CV to myfuturerole.com today and you could soon be approached by relevant employers with exciting career opportunities.