Step 1: Your cover letter
So you've found a job you want to apply for and you're excited to get your CV over to the company. But wait!
Writing an effective cover letter is often your first chance to connect with the employer, and is one of the most critical elements of your application. It should capture the attention of the employer with a summary of your skills, qualities and experience and make them want to read your CV.
This is an example of a cover letter for a fictional job:
Top Tips for writing an effective cover letter
1. The name game: Always write to a specific individual – avoiding addressing covering letters to Dear ‘Sir’ or ‘Madam’. Use ‘Mr’, ‘Mrs’, ‘Miss’ or ‘Ms’ and then the surname of your contact. Never use their first name. Try to look for this information ahead of writing to the company using LinkedIn or the company webpage.
2. Careful consideration: Tailor your letters to each application – don’t mass produce them. You will undoubtedly get more interviews by sending out a small number of well-written cover letters, than by sending out many poorly written ones.
3. Size matters: Keep things concise - three or four brief paragraphs is fine. A covering letter should be a maximum of one A4 page.
Writing your cover letter
You can use the job advert itself to guide you. Underline the skills in the advert and start writing your letter and include the skills you underlined. Be positive and emphasise why you are perfect for the job. Always include any relevant experience.
- Give a summary of your skills and experience. Keep it brief and to the point.
- Remember to include your name, address, phone number, the date, and enclose or attach a copy of your CV.
What to say:
- Be clear and concise. Don’t use a long word if a short one will do.
- If you have been looking for a job for a while, say how you spend your spare time (for example, by doing voluntary work, work experience or study). Be honest and keep to the facts.
How to say it:
- Always try to find out the name of the person you need to write it to. It looks a lot more professional and shows you have made the effort to find out their name.
- If you do start a letter with ‘Dear Sir/Madam’, end with ‘yours faithfully’. If you start with the person’s name (for example, ‘Dear Mrs Smith’) end with ‘yours sincerely’. Finally double-check your spelling and grammar before sending the letter, by using your spell check or by asking a friend or relative to read it.
- Include the job offer reference number if there is one in the job detail. Enter it below the opening line. For example:
"Dear Mr/Mrs [Surname]
Re: Job reference 345"
How the letter looks:
- It is always better to type a letter but if this is not possible, make sure your handwriting is neat. Leave plenty of space around the edge and clear space between each paragraph. Use good quality plain paper and envelopes.
- Sign the letter and print your name underneath to make sure it can be read easily. Ask a friend or relative to check over your letter before you send it.
- Make sure your application arrives on time. If your application is too late, the company might not even consider it and your time will have been wasted.
Step 2: How to prepare an effective CV
Top CV Tips
- Be neat - Typed out if possible, and to the best standard you can achieve in content and layout.
- Be short - Two sides of a sheet of A4 paper is plenty.
- Be positive - It should tell the company your achievements, strengths, successes and make a good impression. This means presenting the facts about yourself in a positive way.
- Keep it simple - Use a clear font, like Arial or Helvetica and write in plain English to get your message across.
What to include in your CV
You should present your CV clearly and keep it simple. There is an example CV at the bottom of this article but you should always include:
- Your name
- Your address
- Your phone number
- Your email address (if you have one)
- Your career history
This is an example of a CV for a fictional job:
A personal profile
- This is a short statement at the beginning of your CV to promote yourself as well as your specific skills, experience4 pmand personal qualities.
- Make sure the statement is tailored to fit the requirements of each job that you apply for so that you make it clear to the employer that you’re right for the job.
- Include any relevant work experience or anything you have done whilst you have been taking part in your hobbies and interests.
- Promote your good qualities and skills.
Education and qualifications
- Include any qualifications and training from your school or college, or any training you have done in a previous or part-time job. Put the most recent first and include any qualifications that you got from school or college.
- It is a good idea to put down two references. The rule is generally to include your most recent employer but if you haven’t been employed previously, you can put your tutor or teacher and a personal referee who is somebody from your community or a friend or relative with a professional status as a character witness.
- Make sure you ask their permission before you include their details.
The next step
If you've put together a cover letter and CV and have succesfully secured an interview, congratulations! Also, see the tutorial/guidelines on how to prepare for an interview below to ensure you're fully prepared... we're sure you'll do great!