The perfect covering letter

In a perfect world, you should tailor every CV to the job to which you are applying. But, in this internet age where everyone applies to dozens, if not hundreds, of jobs this simply isn’t practical. It was once the case that every job application was accompanied by a letter, giving the applicant the chance to sell themselves specifically to the role and to the employer. With applicant tracking systems and job boards this is not always possible.

Or perhaps it is.

Most applicants will have their CV is Word format. There is no reason why you cannot add a front page as a letter to the employer stating why you are right for the job. But should you?

This really depends on the job and whether your CV is obviously relevant. For example, if you are a manager of Topshop and you are applying to River Island for a store manager’s job, there is probably no need since the relevance of your CV is obvious. However, if you are an HRBP for Sainsbury’s but you are applying for a role as a recruitment consultant, you may need to explain yourself. Recruitment consultancy isn’t a natural move from HR and the recruitment firm maybe sceptical about the CV on its own. By attaching a covering letter or email explaining that you really love the prospect of sales whilst using your recruitment skills, it may just sway the decision to invite you for interview. Similarly, if you are working for a small independent fashion store as a manager and you apply for a buying position, even if your CV explains that you do the buying for this small store, you are likely to go in the “NO” pile. However, a well written letter explaining that you are well used to dealing with suppliers and are an accomplished negotiator, may just make the difference.

So if you’re going to attach a covering letter, what should you say?

Here are a few tips:

  • Get to the point.  Avoid the clichés, especially “I hope you are well.”
  • Either highlight the relevant parts of your CV by referring to them or, if it’s not on your CV, tell the employer about it.
  • Keep it short. Long letters and long emails don’t get read. Anything longer than three short-ish paragraphs is probably too long.
  • Keep it relevant. Unless what you have to say is likely to be attractive to the employer, don’t say it. Listing all your attributes is boring unless they are relevant.
  • Spell and grammar check it! This should be obvious, but a letter with typos is damning.
  • Check the layout and get it right. Space it properly and sign off properly. A botched layout makes you look scruffy.
  • If it’s a letter, use proper letter format with the employer’s name and address at the top. The date should be written in full and you should address the recipient as Dear “_”.  If it’s email format, you can be less formal and just address the recipient with their name.
  • Don’t use text speak. Avoid emojis and acronyms. Keep it professional.

Lastly, but most importantly, tailor each letter to each employer. If you are using a general letter you may as well not bother and simply have a generic CV.


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