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Cover Letter

By Noel Logan Principal, Successful Resumes Melbourne CBD- visit Noel at www.successfulresumes.com.au/victoria/

A cover letter should not be a ‘two-liner’ with your resume attached. The aim of the application letter is to introduce yourself and to convince an employer that they should interview you. It should be positive, confident and contain the information needed for the employer to make that decision.

An application letter is usually your first contact with the prospective employer. It complements your resume, demonstrating your understanding of what the job entails, who the company is, and why you want to work for them. While your resume focuses on you, your letter should focus on the employer and how you are the best fit for them.

There are two kinds of application letters. The first is written in response to an advertised vacancy. The second is an introductory letter you send to a specific organisation to ask if they have a position that suits your skills, aspirations and expertise.

The first type of cover letter or application letter should clearly address the criteria outlined in the position description or job advertisement. You should also use the cover letter to answer any questions that are immediately evident in the advertisement.

In your cover letter, discuss the following:

  • How you qualify for the position?
  • How you add value to the organisation?
  • Why you want to work for them?
  • What sets you apart from other candidates, and how that meets the employer needs
  • What you find attractive about the organisation – their values, goals, culture, reputation, products, projects, growth, target audience

Important Points to Note

  1. Address the letter correctly. Spell names and titles accurately. If you are unsure of any details phone the company or the contact person given in the advertisement to ask for more information. If you do not know the name of the contact person begin your letter with ‘Dear Sir/Madam’.
  2. Be brief and to the point, trying to keep to one page where possible. In the first paragraph, include your objective, how you heard about the position and the specific position you are after. If you have researched the company mention why you are interested in working for the company.
  3. The last paragraph should encompass your closing argument, why you want the job, why you would like to work for their organisation (i.e. if you have researched them, you may know of their views on corporate, environmental or social responsibilities.These views or other information you may gain may be compatible with your own, if so say so!).
  4. State how you can be contacted and request an interview. Finish your letter with ‘Yours sincerely’ if addressing the letter with the name of the person, or ‘Yours faithfully’ if you do not. Type in your name and follow this with your written signature.

An introductory letter requires a different approach.

Consider it an employment proposal or business case – you’re asking an organisation to invest in you, so you have to prove that the investment is worthwhile. More importantly, you need to prove that they can’t afford not to employ you. To achieve this, ideally you want to identify a particular need or problem that the organisation is experiencing, and offer your expertise as a solution. While this approach requires a considerable level of research and time, it is a natural extension of a successful networking approach.

Your letter should present you as confident, in control and professional. It is vital that applications are mistake free. Spelling errors, grammatical mistakes or using the wrong words are irreversible mistakes that will see your application heading for the rubbish bin.

Read your letter out loud to help make sure words flow together properly and picks up those overlooked spelling mistakes.

With State and Federal Government positions you will almost certainly be required to answer job specific and common selection criteria.

This is a critically important component of the application and generally your application will simply be culled if you do not address the criteria. It can be a complex and time consuming task that may require specialist assistance.

Clients often ask if they should include a cover letter with their resume when submitting an application for an advertised vacancy. I believe a good cover letter provides another opportunity for you to convince the recruiter that you are the type of person they should interview.

You need to write a new cover letter for every position that you apply for, and in order to write a good cover letter you need to find out as much as you can about the vacancy and the company. Looking at the company website is a good start, but many vacancies listed by recruiting agencies do not disclose the name of the company. However, they show the name and contact details of a person, and you should make a point of calling the contact person before you start your application. Write down a list of questions before you make the call, and choose a quiet location where you will not be interrupted to make the call.

  1. Your cover letter should be no longer than one A4 page, using 10-12 point font, and if at all possible it should be personally addressed. At the head of the letter you should provide your name and contact details, together with the name of the employer or contact person, the job title and reference number (if provided), the company name and address. There will be a short opening paragraph indicating that you wish to apply for the advertised vacancy, and a concluding paragraph indicating that you are keen to discuss your suitability for employment in the position. This leaves two or three paragraphs for you to sell yourself. There is no point in summarising your resume in the letter. If you can’t think of something different or special about you and your experience then there is no reason to interview you. Think of your cover letter as an opportunity to write down your elevator pitch.
  2. I suggest that in your second paragraph you should indicate why you want the job. Your discussion with the contact person should have given you a more detailed knowledge of the role and responsibilities associated with the position, so you can show the depth of your interest.
  3. The third paragraph should highlight how your specialist skills and experience match the requirements for the job. As you are talking about specialist or technical skills, make sure that this paragraph includes key words or phrases relevant to your area of expertise. Try to use this paragraph to show what makes you better than, or different from other applicants.

If you need to include another paragraph before your conclusion, use this to emphasise the personal qualities you have demonstrated. You can indicate how you have demonstrated your excellent written and verbal communication skills; how well you have worked as a member of successful teams; and nominate tasks that required highly developed organisational and time management skills.

The letter is now ready to attach to your application, but before you take that step please check for spelling or grammatical errors and that you don’t have lots of sentences staring with “I”. Make sure that everything you have mentioned is factual, and does not conflict with the contents of your resume or your Linkedin profile. Finally, get someone else to check the letter before you send it off.