Covering Letters - A CV Centre Guide
covering letter that you send to a potential employer is arguably just
as important as the CV or application form that it accompanies. It is
the ideal opportunity for you to expand on the skills and experiences
that are highlighted in your CV while also enabling you to express your
personality. There are two principal types of cover letter which accompany
CVs - Advertisement Response and Speculative - and we will run through both in
In general, letters should be no longer than one page unless there are clear instructions to the contrary. Presentation is of the utmost important and, unless a handwritten letter is specifically requested, the letter should always be typed and laser-printed onto high quality paper.
It is advisable to make sure that you actually match any essential criteria
specified in the job advertisement before you send in your application. For example,
if a job advertisement specifies that the candidate must have ten years experience
in IT support, and you have only four years experience, there is probably
very little point in your applying for the position. However, there are
some circumstances in which some degree of flexibility may apply. An example
of this could be if the job requires an "excellent working knowledge
of the Microsoft Office Suite" and, although you have no practical
experience it its application, you have recently completed the CLAIT qualification
so do have a good theoretical knowledge. It is a matter of judgment, but
clearly you don't wish to waste either your time, or the recruiter's time.
Be sure to read the advertisement very carefully so that you can address the letter correctly and mark it for the attention of the designated member of staff. You should also include the title of the job you are applying for and any reference numbers given - often, companies will be seeking candidates for various positions and will want to see clearly which job is being applied for.
The first paragraph should be relatively brief and explain quite simply where you saw the advertisement and on what date. In the main body of the letter you should then go on to highlight your skills and experience in more detail. If certain criteria are mentioned in the advertisement, you should ideally try to explain exactly how you match these - with brief but relevant examples that demonstrate your suitability. Also, say why you want to work for that organisation in particular, referring to any research that you have carried out on the organisation to emphasise that you fully understand them and the way they operate.
The final paragraph should conclude the letter with any other information requested in the advertisement such as salary and availability for interview. And before you send it off, do read through the advertisement once more to ensure that you have fully satisfied the criteria, keeping an awareness of the specified closing date.
The principal content of a speculative letter can follow similar lines
to the advertisement response type, making sure once again to tailor the letter
towards the company or organisation in question. However, the way you
open and the way you close the letter will of course need to be different.
Even if you are not responding to an advertisement, you must try to address the letter to a specific person rather than vaguely stating "Dear Sir/Madam". You may need to contact the employer by phone in advance to find out the name of an appropriate contact but it is clear that letters addressed to a specific person do achieve better results. Once again, conduct some basic research into the organisation so that you can highlight the particular skills and qualifications you possess which are of relevance to them.
Obviously, the first paragraph of the letter will not include reference to a job advertisement and the closing paragraph should encourage future contact rather than demand it, as well as requesting for your details to be stored on file should a suitable vacancy not currently be available.
In general, whichever type of cover letter you are producing, it is important that it is written concisely and articulately. Take your time over it; do not rush. It is also essential to check that there are no spelling or grammatical errors as this is very possibly the recruiter's first impression of you. Make sure it is a positive one.
Of course, the above advice may well be 'easier said than done' and the best way to ensure your covering letters inspire the reader to turn over enthusiastically - and read the accompanying CV - is to enlist the services of a professional. Find out how The CV Centre can help you to maximise your chances of getting through to the interview stage. The CV Centre is South Africa's leading CV consultancy and, with many years experience in this sector, you can be sure our cover letters are of the highest possible quality.
Author: James Innes