Covering letters should be used to give the recruiter a reason to read your CV, show why you want the job and highlight your suitability for the role.
So, don't just summarise your career history, but include details not in your CV to personalise your application. Your letter should also link your CV to the specific requirements of the job or the organisation.
Researching a company helps you tie in your strengths, achievements and background. But even when faced with limited company details (as in the example from a recruitment company below) the job description itself can give you enough information to tailor your letter.
This advertisement is for a graduate role, so the experience requirements are not as stringent as for more senior positions. However, it's clear that the organisation want a specific type of person with the right attitude.
This small yet highly successful Chocolate Events Company has an exciting opening for a bright, conscientious and highly organised bookings coordinator.
Responsible for managing the bookings process for events from start to finish, your duties will include responding to enquiries, writing proposals, confirming details, liaising with venues and handling post-event follow ups. It is vital that you have a superb client service ethic and the ability to build relationships with a diverse range of individuals ... you must be process-driven, methodical and pay strong attention to detail ... As a key member of a close-knit and dedicated team, you must be hard-working, flexible and have a can-do attitude ... As this role requires you to compose tailored client proposals, it is expected that your covering email will reflect a high level of written communication ability.
This is a superb opportunity for a proactive and enthusiastic team player who is keen to apply their experience within a small company where your contribution will be valued. Salary: £18,000-£22,000.
Below, I have drafted two potential responses to this vacancy.
Covering letter 1
I am writing to apply for the role of booking coordinator (Ref G1150) and have attached a copy of my CV for your consideration.
As you can see from my CV, I have already had extensive experience in a bookings role, and I am now looking for an opportunity to build on this.
I am currently working in a customer-facing retail role, where I earn £16,000.
Please do not hesitate to contact me if you would like any further information.
The verdict: Personality is important in a people business such as events, but there's nothing here that would entice the recruiter to look at the CV. It sounds too formal, and the applicant gives no reason for wanting the job, or what makes them a strong candidate.
Adding personality traits such as "I'm an exceptionally organised individual with a keen eye for detail," would risk making her letter sound bland unless context or examples were included. This letter may be brief and accurate, but it's also weak and formulaic. The recruiter will probably receive many letters exactly like this, and the candidate has wasted a opportunity to stand out.
Covering letter 2
I was excited to see the opportunity for a bookings coordinator in a Chocolate Events company. (Ref G1150)
I am currently working in a customer-facing retail role, where I earn just under the quoted salary. I enjoy this role, but miss the satisfaction of rolling up my sleeves and seeing a project through from start to finish.
Along with three fellow French undergraduates, I organised a series of wine-tasting events on campus. Liaising between importers, retailers and the university, I managed the bookings for the sommelier evenings. One importer described me as "a safe pair of hands" and was impressed with my professionalism and meticulous attention to detail. I was particularly proud that the events I co-ordinated were described as a "must-attend" in the French department.
Please contact me via email or on 020 3333 2222 if you would like to arrange an interview.
Thank you for your consideration.
The verdict: In comparison, this candidate's personality and enthusiasm stand out. The applicant briefly refers to relevant experience, but also gives a bigger picture of their personality and what they are like to work with. For example, they include testimonials to illustrate strengths and achievements, and explain their motivation for applying.
The applicant has identified key requirements, and tailored the letter around these: a can-do, hard-working attitude, attention to detail and ability to work in a team. Customising the letter also demonstrates their potential for writing tailored client proposals — one of the job duties.
Plus, this candidate has also handled the salary question well. Recruiters often ask for this information to make sure the candidate is roughly in the right salary range. By not being specific, they may have a stronger negotiating position than if they had stated their exact salary. But this applicant has also deflected attention away from money, and focused instead on why they want the role, which comes across as genuinely enthusiastic.
Top Cover Letter Mistakes to Avoid
Most Common Cover Letter Mistakes and How to Avoid Them
The first thing that most employers notice when evaluating a job applicant is his or her cover letter. An effective cover letter can prove that you write well, think clearly and possess the qualities you need to succeed in the job. Avoiding mistakes will help you to jump the first hurdle and get screened in for an interview.
Most Common Cover Letter Mistakes
Submitting a Cover Letter With Errors. Submitting a letter with grammar and/or spelling errors is a sure way to get screened out.
Use spelling and grammar checking tools to identify some issues, but never trust that they have caught all your errors. Place a finger on every word, read your letter out loud and have friends and advisors review your communications before forwarding them to employers.
Sending a Generic Letter. The most common mistake in cover letters is using a generic approach and sending the same letter to every employer. Make sure you mention the specific job for which you are applying in your first sentence. Carefully consider the characteristics of the ideal candidate, as listed in the job posting, and explain how your skills, experiences, and personal qualities will enable you to excel in that particular job.
Not Getting the Facts Right. It is surprising how often job seekers address their letter to the wrong person or reference the wrong company.
This is often the case when candidates are applying for many jobs at the same time. Carefully check you salutation and be certain that you list the right contact person and mention only your target company throughout your letter.
Using an Outdated Greeting. Refrain from using old-fashioned terms like "Dear Sir or Madam" if you don't have the name of a contact person.
Try gender-neutral terms like "Dear Human Resources Manager." Address women as "Ms. Jones" as opposed to "Mrs. Jones" or simply start with the first paragraph of your letter and don't address it to anyone.
Cover Letter is Too Short. Providing a letter which is too short can send the wrong signal to employers about your work ethic or level of interest in the job. You will also have missed the opportunity to frame your background for employers and to lead them towards a positive view of your candidacy.
Cover Letter is Too Long. An overly lengthy letter can burden the reader and increase the likelihood that they will jump over your letter and move right to the resume. The same can be said for paragraphs which are too dense. Aim for 3 to 5 paragraphs no longer than six lines each.
Including Too Much Information. There is some information that you don't need to include in your cover letter. In fact, including it can hurt your chances of securing an interview. Don't give employers any more information than they need to know.
Not Providing Concrete Examples. Expressing empty opinions about your strengths will generally not convince employers about your suitability for the job.
Back up your statements about your assets by referencing a job or role where you successfully employed that strength. For example, instead of simply stating "I possess strong writing skills and an outstanding work ethic." try "Strong writing skills enabled me to revise a grant proposal and secure $100,000 in additional funding from the Jones Foundation."
Not Expressing Enough Interest. Don't leave the hiring manager wondering about your level of interest. Express a genuine enthusiasm for the job so that the employer knows that you are highly motivated to pursue the job.
Read More: Cover Letter Grammar Errors to Avoid | Cover Letter Examples | Cover Letter Format | Email Cover Letters