How to write a covering letter
…Some tips on how to write a covering letter,
by Mike Booton our M.D.
Some candidates attach a covering letter with their CV as a matter of course, others don’t. I find it a matter of personal preference whether you do or not, and it all depends if you have time to read the Job Description carefully and tailor your letter accordingly.
If your covering letter is simply a re-hash of your CV, or reiterates what you say in your email, then please don’t bother. Recruiters rarely have time to read such an attachment and will give up after a quick glance if this is the case.
So is it worth attaching one? Well, yes, if you take the time to make the recruiter’s job easy for them. For example:
- Read the Job Description carefully, and tease out the two or three main criteria that you must have to apply for the role. These and these alone should be stressed in your covering letter, as this shows that you have applied for a role that is very relevant to you.
- Do not explain why you do NOT fit the criteria – what’s the point? It undermines your case to say something like “I realise I don’t have ten years of mining experience, but…” – if the recruiter is looking for ten years of mining experience, he’s just binned your application right there. Best just to send your CV as is, if this is the case, and let the recruiter make their own mind up.
- Highlight the ONE key area of your experience that is outstanding. And I mean awesome. Not that you once ran the local Scouts, worthy though that may be. But something that sets you apart form the other candidates who are no doubt jostling for the recruiter’s attention. You want them to be able to email your details to their client with a comment along the lines of “You must see this candidate because….” and they will often then use your words or phrase to explain why. So make their job easy and be succinct and outstanding. Of course, defining what is this one elusive key character trait or experience is hard, but that’s your job – no-one knows you better than you do.
- Check your grammar and spelling carefully. Just as with your CV, a covering letter is a shop window of your talents and character, and an illiterate letter just blows a hole in your argument that you can work well in many languages or write good reports etc. Although it is hard if the job you’re applying for isn’t in your native language, you can still take care and get a friend who does have that language to read it over before sending it. Best not to send a letter at all, if you can’t showcase your letter-writing skills at the same time.
- By the same token, if the advert is in a particular language, respond in that language. There’s no point being the finest Portuguese geologist ever seen if you respond to an advert in English for a Portuguese geologist…in Portuguese. The recruiter who placed it probably won’t speak Portuguese. You’ll be wasting your time, and theirs.
- I suggest that your covering letter should be a separate attachment, written as a formal letter of application for a specific post. Otherwise, don’t bother attaching one. You should reference it in your email, and highlight again a couple of reasons why your CV and Letter should be looked at. But if your sending out a general application to many roles, or a CV on spec, then there is little point going to the trouble of a letter. General email applications have a place in getting your CV out there, but they are never as effective as a considered application for a particular post that shows you have read the Job Description carefully.
So in short, if you take the trouble to apply your key skills to a particular role, do attach a covering letter that reflects this and directs the recruiter to one or two key skills that fit you for that role, as well as stress this in a brief email attaching both the letter and your CV (Resume).
If the recruiter having read your email and had a quick look at your CV feels you are of interest, they will click on your Letter and see confirmed (hopefully) their initial impression, and you’ll go forward to the Shortlist.