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What employers want from your covering letter

Find out what information to include and how to stand out from the crowd with our expert tips.

Your covering letter is the first chance you have to impress a potential employer. Get it right and they will read your CV with interest and are more likely to invite you to interview. Get it wrong and your application could be shelved on the 'read it later' pile, or worse, go straight in the bin.

Find out what information to include and how to stand out from the crowd with our expert tips.

Address it right

Firstly, find out who you are sending your application to and use your initiative if the information is not provided. Don't address a covering letter to "Whomever it may concern" or "Dear Sir/Madam".

'It will not make a good first impression or get you selected for interview,' warns career coach Ruth Winden of Careers Enhanced.

'Instead, find out the name and job title of the hiring manager through LinkedIn or Google, the company's website or help desk. Always personalise your application so you make a strong first impression.'

Style and tone

'Consider the industry you are writing to as this will affect the style and tone', says Kelly Kendall, Managing Director of Cordant People, a leading national recruitment organisation specialising in permanent and temporary general staffing positions.

'For example, a letter to an accountancy or law firm will be more formal compared to a creative company where they will expect you to be more imaginative with your writing,

'Even if you know the full name of the person, always address them as 'Dear Mr Smith' and not by their first name as being too over-familiar at this stage can turn an employer off.'

The employer will want to see instantly from your cover letter what position you are applying for, especially if they have a number of applicants for various jobs.

Kelly suggests highlighting this in bold as the first sentence of your letter after 'Dear Mr Smith'. If you have any job reference numbers then these should also be included.

What to get across

A finely crafted and persuasive covering letter gives you an additional opportunity to sell your skills, knowledge and experience, says Rob Williams, an occupational psychologist and author of "Passing Verbal Reasoning Tests" and "Passing Numerical Reasoning Tests".

'Present only the two or three key points from your CV together with why you want the job. Ideally aim to link these points – thereby highlighting how relevant your most recent experience is.'

You should touch upon why you're relevant for the job and how you will meet the employer's needs but watch the length of the letter. Keep it punchy and no longer than two short paragraphs.

'Your CV will be the place where you can go into your skills and experience in great depth,' says Kelly.

'Instead, take the main area of responsibility of the role and give an example in the cover letter of how your skills suit, for example, "My experience as a warehouse operative will help with the efficient running of your warehouse to further enhance the delivery of products and your customer service."'

Rob agrees, adding: 'If you've made the effort to produce a well-written cover letter you don't want it to go unread because busy recruiters see immediately that it will take too long to read.'

Good cultural fit

Employers also want to see that you are a good fit for their organisation – and share the company's ethos, values and culture.

'These days, companies look for professional competence and cultural fit,' says Ruth.

'Show in your covering letter that you "get" the company and what they stand for. Share why the company appeals to you and show the common values behind some of your previous accomplishments.'

Use the same words and phrases that the company uses on their website, press releases and publications, paying particular attention to the language they use to describe values and success.

'This might feel strange to start with, if not somehow 'fluffy'. Yet it is intangibles like your cultural fit that matter – not just your expertise, track record and accomplishments,' adds Ruth.

Refer back to your CV

At the end of the letter, include a 'next step' to encourage the employer to read your CV.

Kelly says, 'For example: "To see how I can enhance your warehouse operations then please take a look at my CV which contains examples of how I have introduced new systems and processes that have helped enhance the distribution network at previous organisations."'

Check and check again

Don't forget to proof read your letter and check your spelling and punctuation. Typos and grammar mistakes will tarnish your first impression.

Be sure to include all your relevant contact information including your address, the best number to reach you on, and your personal (not work) email address, advises Kelly. If you're emailing your letter then include your contact information in your signature as opposed to in a hard copy letter where it should be displayed on the top right-hand corner.

Kelly adds: 'Remember, your covering letter is a chance to stand out from the crowd and get you to the interview stage – so you should dedicate an equal amount of time to writing it as to your CV.'

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