Job hunting? How to write a good covering letter or email

Recent letters accompanying CVs that I have received have made me cringe with embarrassment on behalf of the writer … usually a student looking for either a temporary or permanent placement in a marketing job.

The reason why is that so often the letters are totally “me” orientated … all about what “I” have done and how “I” want to achieve this or that, usually ending on a none-too polite request for them to be informed of any vacancies.

Why should I inform them of any vacancies? Not once in their covering letter do they say, or suggest, what might be in it for me as their prospective employer.

Most experts agree that the sensible way to approach the covering letter is to abide by conventions of whatever industry you’re in. If you’re in any of the business communication industries, your covering letter will need to be “you” (reader benefits) orientated if it’s going to attract the right sort of attention.

If you’re in IT, you may not need a covering letter or email at all. Overall, though, it’s considered a polite way to introduce your CV and provided that it doesn’t slow the reader’s progress through the pile, it can be a very good way of flagging you up and capturing the reader’s attention.

Layout of the letter

This should follow the normal pattern of an ordinary business letter, something like this:

If you are sending your CV by email as an attachment, the email itself needs to cover the same topics but obviously in a less formal, abbreviated way, e.g.

Covering letters or emails when you’re going around job agencies

Very often when you’re job hunting around the agencies F2F the agents concerned will tell you to email or send your CV to them directly. In this case the covering letter or email only needs to confirm and remind them of who you are – something like this:

Covering letters or emails when responding to job ads, etc.

This is where you need to get a bit more creative, as unlike the agency staff, the recipients of your CV are likely to be a) the person who might employ you or b) someone pretty close to him/her.

First of all this is where your capability at business writing comes under scrutiny, as much of the text in the CV is likely to be bullets and contractions – but here your words need to flow. You also need to be very concise so you get them wanting more very quickly. And it goes without saying that your spelling, grammar and punctuation must be perfect. First impressions count here like anywhere else. Pay particular attention to spelling the person’s name as shown – ditto the company name and address. Use a standard business letter layout or email layout as I showed you above, and if sending hard copy make sure you use plain, good quality white A4 paper.

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The objective here is to make your application stand out from the crowd, and there’s one way I have suggested to many people that seems to work pretty well. This involves researching the company concerned and picking up on a particular issue with which you can offer a definite connection. The structure of your main body text might go something like this:

Dear XXXXXX (Manager of Pizza Restaurant)

I am applying for your position of waiter as advertised in today’s XXXXXXXXXX. My CV is attached for your information.

You might find it useful that my late grandfather was Italian, from Naples which as you know is the home of the pizza – and I have loved both making and eating pizzas since early childhood. You’ll find that much within both my work experience and hobbies relates to this.

I do hope I may look forward to hearing from you – and eventually to contributing good value to your restaurant.

(Etc.)

How about this one:

Dear XXXXXXX (Manager of residential SEN children’s school)

I am applying for your position of part-time care assistant as advertised in today’s XXXXXXXXXX. My CV is attached for your information.

Although I have not been formally employed for a few years while raising my young family, you may be interested to know that along with doing this I also acted as personal carer to my grandmother from 200X to a few weeks ago when she was obliged to move into a nursing home. I enjoyed caring for her increasingly challenging needs and you may agree with me that this experience is transferable to your care assistance role.

I do hope I may look forward to hearing from you – and eventually to contributing effectively to your school.

(Etc.)

 And for someone further up in the big bad business world:

Dear XXXXXXX (MD of Volkswagen Audi dealership)

I am applying for your position of marketing manager as advertised in today’s XXXXXXXXXX. My CV is attached for your information.

Although as you’ll see from the CV that my recent experience in automotive marketing has been with Peugeot/Citroën, you’ll be interested to know that I have a passion for Mark 1 VW Golfs and have three models, all in showroom condition, which I take to concours d’elegance all over the UK.

I do hope I may look forward to hearing from you – and eventually to contributing positively to your dealership and my favourite marque.

(Etc.)

 What if there’s nothing to pull you out and get you noticed?

If you can’t think of anything special to pull out of your employment toolkit, don’t worry – just make the recipient of the covering letter feel good – without excessive flattery or any grovelling, of course!

Your second paragraph (after the salutary one) should pick up on something like…

…I have always admired XXXXX pizzas – I plus many of my friends and family are regular customers there, and as such it would be especially gratifying for me to be able to make a positive contribution to your restaurant …

…that having brought up three young children, some of whose school friends were SEN, I have valuable first-hand experience of day-to-day care and management of most age groups and enjoy interaction with children of all abilities…

…that although my recent marketing experience has been in the luxury goods sector I have always loved the Volkswagen brand for its quality and no-nonsense sophistication and I’m confident that my experience can be harnessed to add significant value to your dealership…

There are thousands upon thousands of websites and books that give you information on how to put your CV and covering letter/email together, and by all means look them up. However don’t take it all too seriously, and remember that a) simpler is always better and b) never forget that your CV and covering letter are all about you – not some stereotype candidate that we well-meaning advisers have concocted.

Trust your instincts. And good luck!

More useful help for your job hunting:

“Super Speeches”…how to write and deliver them well

“How To Write About Yourself”…how to make the most of yourself, whatever you need to write

“Business Writing Made Easy”…everything you need to know about writing for business in English

photo credit: Ed Yourdon via photo pin cc

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  1. Wise words of wisdom again.

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