You should always include a covering letter with your CV when applying for a job. Your covering letter should complement and reinforce your CV, and gives you the chance to highlight skills and experience mentioned in the CV, and comment on anything that you feel needs further explanation.
For example, if you are not currently in employment because of a recent redundancy, you can mention this in your covering letter, rather than try to include this in the body of the CV, which can look messy. If couched in positive terms, this gives the employer a valid explanation of an otherwise unexplained CV gap, and also lets them know that you will be available quickly.
Covering letters are often treated as an afterthought by job applicants, but they are worth taking seriously and spending time on as they are part of the job application process and employers will read them carefully. Think about it from the employer’s point of view - a good covering letter not only demonstrates your written skills and style, it also shows how you are able to construct a persuasive argument, and better conveys an idea of your motivation and approach than a factual CV.
An employer could be looking through a large number of CVs, from similar candidates who all meet the basic criteria for the job. The covering letter therefore becomes something that can give you competitive advantage and is your chance to enlarge upon the facts in your CV and really drive home why you are worth an interview.
Your covering letter should be no longer than one side of A4, three or four paragraphs. The usual conventions of letter writing apply, ie both addresses at the top of the letter, include the date and personally addressed to the recipient. Start the letter by clearly stating the title of the job for which you are applying - check this against the job advert or job description and get it right, a rough approximation of what you think it is will not do! Include a reference number if one has been given, and where you saw the post advertised.
The bulk of the letter should be concerned with explaining why you are interested in the job, and why you are suited to it. The best way to do this is to refer back to the original job advert, or to a role profile or job description if this has been supplied. Even a short job advert should include details of what the job involves, and the skills, experience and qualities required to do it - often referred to as a "person specification" or "selection criteria".
Make a list of these criteria, and then briefly address each of these in the letter, showing how you meet them through previous work experience (or other activities, such as hobbies and interests, voluntary work etc). It is important that you don’t just make assertions about meeting the criteria, but back these up with solid evidence and examples. Highlight any particular achievements in these areas, and any criteria which you feel are your strengths.
Your letter should also convey some of your enthusiasm for the job and motivation for applying, but again keep this brief and avoid gushing - even if this really is your dream job! As mentioned at the top of this page, you may also want to include explanations for any gaps or perceived weakness in the CV, but make sure that this is explained in a positive way. Finally, you can include any relevant information about your availability for interview, for example mention any holidays or dates you wouldn’t be available, and end the letter with a positive statement such as "I look forward to hearing from you soon".
You should use positive and professional language in your letter - avoid being casual and colloquial, but equally don’t go to the other extreme and be too formal or use unnecessarily long words in the hope of impressing the recruiter - you won’t. If you are e-mailing your application, you can either send your covering letter as an attachment, or paste it into an e-mail. If the latter, don’t lapse into informal e-mail style, but use the same tone as you would in a letter.
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Covering Letters for Job Applications - Article about how to write a good covering letter from the website of the Institute of Electrical Engineers, but the advice can be applied to any kind of job! Includes practical guidance and tips, and views from careers advisers and employers about what recruiters want to see in a letter - www.iee.org
Help With Completing Letters and Forms - Simple tips for writing covering letters, both speculatively and in response to a job advert, plus guidance on completing application forms. Includes sample letters for different scenarios - www.jobcentreplus.gov.uk
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