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Is your cover letter a winner?

Posted on from HRM Global

Competition in the job market can be fierce, so getting your CV read is arguably the most important step in the process of finding a new job. Here's how to make your cover letter stand out from the crowd.

CV and cover letter – your marketing tools

When you’re competing with hundreds of candidates, you might find that the recruiter goes straight to the CV. You might have done this yourself when faced with a never-ending stream of applications. This, however, doesn’t mean the covering letter is redundant. In fact it’s quite the opposite.

The covering letter is your opportunity to shine and draw the recruiter’s attention to the relevant parts of your CV and it works most powerfully when sending out speculative applications.

  • CV = your brochure
  • Covering Letter = your direct marketing letter

Both need to ‘sell’ you from the page. This might be your one shot at getting the person’s attention so make the most of it.

Do background research

Each covering letter or introductory email should be tailored to the person receiving it. This means you need to know who you're 'talking' to.

If you're sending in your CV without knowing if there is definitely a position, you may not know the name of the person to address it to. It may be discarded if you only address the letter to the job function, e.g. the 'HR Manager' or the 'Finance Director'.  Do your best to find out the name of the person to send it to.  There are three simple methods you can use:

  1. Phone the company and ask for the name of the person you want.  Make sure you say you don't need to be put through otherwise they might connect you without thinking
  2. Look on the company website for the contact name
  3. Look on sites like Linked In ( - just search by company name and it will bring up the profiles of the people who work there

If you still can't find the name of the right person, go further up the organisation and write to a senior person by name. While they might not be the person doing the hiring, they will know who to pass your letter to. Usually this is via a written note on your letter suggesting they give you a ring - who's going to ignore an instruction from the boss to call you?

Key points to include in your cover letter

Here are some pointers when you are writing your winning covering letters and emails:

  • Think about things from their point of view – what do they want to know vs. what do you want to tell them? How are you going to add value to the team?
  • Explain why you want the job and why you want to work for that company
  • If you admire the person you're writing to and have read their book, seen them speak at a conference, or read an article about them – tell them and make sure it’s sincere flattery rather than a cheesy attempt to impress them
  • Write in your own personality – don't try to be someone you're not or be overly formal. Recruiters use the covering letter to try and figure out if you're the right kind of person
  • Be confident about what you bring to their company without being cocky
  • Explain any gaps on your CV
  • Ask for a meeting with them
  • Be bold and set a time that you'll follow up with them and then make sure you do, e.g. "I'll call you on Tuesday morning". If they’re not available when you call, leave a message as this shows you follow up well and keep your promises
  • Use a good quality pen when you sign your name and if you have neat handwriting consider hand-writing the "Dear" part of the letter as well as the envelope. People almost always open hand-written mail before typed mail. It looks like a personal letter just for them
  • When emailing, choose a subject line that will catch their eye without being 'spammy', for example if you got their name from a mutual contact the subject line could read "Introduction from..." and then begin the email by explaining why they gave you their email address.

Of course, you need to think about how the style and tone of your letter will be received. A wacky approach may not appeal to someone in a very traditional firm and vice versa, so apply common sense.

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