Jobseekers will often spend hours honing their CV, making sure it details all the relevant information, is laid out attractively and contains no spelling or grammar errors.
After all this hard work and effort, then, it seems bizarre that decidedly less time is spent on the covering letter. Perhaps this is because there isn’t such a vast library of advice out there for cover letters as there is for CVs. Either way, job hunters who pay little attention to their covering letter do so at their peril, as this could be responsible for the failure of an application – even if the adjoining CV is perfect.
So with this in mind, we set out to discover exactly what it was recruiters and property professionals thought made up a good covering letter (not to mention that which should be avoided at all costs), including hosting a Twitter chat on the subject.
What is the best way to begin a covering letter?
Starting at the beginning (where else), we sought to find out the best way of opening a covering letter. For this, opinion was somewhat divided, especially where the addressee was concerned.
Historic advice suggests that jobseekers should – wherever possible – find out the name of the individual on whose desk their application will eventually land. It’s said that doing this is a much more personal approach than simply choosing ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ or worse, ‘To whom it may concern.”
This was certainly the opinion of the Guardian Careers twitter account (@GuardianCareers). It claimed the best opening is “100% the name of the hiring manager – spelt (sic) correctly! No sirs or madams.”
Not everybody was of this belief, however. Others noted that – in today’s tech-led world where large job portals exist – finding out the right name can be a difficult task, if not entirely impossible. As such, it would be much better to simply lead with the ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ than gambling on a name that later turns out to be incorrect.
From here, the advice was largely unanimous: state the role for which you are applying (as there could be numerous), show yourself off in the best light and don’t be afraid to be bold. After all, this should catch their attention – which is what’s needed in a busy market.
How much should you say?
The covering letter is regularly seen as just a preface to the CV, where all the relevant information is concerned. But exactly how true is this? Getting it wrong can result in either a long and rambling essay that no recruiter would real all the way, or something that’s so short it looks flippant or lacking in effort.
Most of the responses were unanimous in their suggestion of keeping covering letters short rather than going into overkill. A paragraph or two should be plenty to get across suitability for the role and interest in the position (or company). Anything much longer than this is likely to send the hiring manager to sleep before they’ve even reached half way – not the greatest first impression.
A point noted on Twitter by Eric Walker (@JustEricWalker) was: “Don’t mention experience in [a] letter – it should be an announcement of the CV – not an edited version.”
Some property recruiters even noted that they spend little more than a minute reading covering letters, so brevity is your friend when it comes to professing suitability for the role.
What examples have really grabbed you?
With this question, we expected ripping yarns about the creativity of some individuals and the lengths they went to in order to secure a position. Perhaps good news for jobseekers, however, was that recruiters report seeing few of these, instead reporting that a simple, effective covering letter with good spelling and grammar was enough to catch their eye.
This wasn’t true for everyone, though. During our Twitter Q&A, Steven Wayne (@StevenHWayne) remembered one covering letter which proclaimed: “I CAN SELL ANYTHING ANYTIME ANYWHERE”. He added: “The English was awful but she got my attention.”
Furthermore, a passion for the job that really shines through should be enough to pique a recruiter’s interest and encourage them to read on. From there, goals was also mentioned as a jump-off point, showing not only what a person has achieved but also the areas in which they feel they’d like to move in future.
In short, all you need to do is explain why you are right for the job, using perfect grammar and syntax. Nothing, then, that needs grand ideas or budgets after all.
How should a covering letter end?
Having started at the beginning, it’s only right to bring the covering letter advice to its end with the letter’s sign off. This is arguably as important as the opening gambit as it will make the difference between a recruiter going on to read the CV or discarding it altogether.
At this point, much advice centres around thanking the person for taking the time to read your covering letter. If they’ve managed to make it all the way to the bottom, as you have here, then thank them for doing so.
A closing statement is also the time to provide the recruiter with details of how they should get in touch, should they need to. Email addresses are acceptable, but it’s also wise to put down a telephone number on which you can be reached, should they have a quick question that needs to be answered.
The worst thing that can be done here is to provide times or dates when a candidate will not be available. This only gives the impression they are too busy for the job and don’t care for it as much as their cover letter may have otherwise attested.
Now is also the chance to sign off with a small call to action. In this sense it would be a reason for them to press on with reading the CV or calling you in for an interview. Grabbing a recruiter’s attention should ensure you end leaving them wanting more, not grateful it’s finally over.
So in summary, cover letters should be short and to the point, detailing an individual’s work history but without going into the minutiae. A couple of paragraphs or anything that can be read in under two minutes should suffice. Open with the recipient’s name but only if you are certain of it, otherwise it’s best not to gamble. Then, to close, offer a chance for the recruiter to get back in touch should they need to.
Easy, when you know how. Happy job hunting!