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10 Covering Letter Essentials

5:09pm Wednesday 2nd February 2011

In today's electronic age it is easy to forget the basic courtesies of applying for a job. E-mailed applications should be treated no differently to snail-mailed applications and the importance of some form of covering letter should never be under-estimated.

The covering letter can be described as the trailer to the main feature and its main function is to get your CV read. It is a chance to make personal contact and provide a link between yourself and the position for which you are applying. The following checklist should help:

1. Mention three points that highlight your specific expertise in the area relevant to the job. Then mention three points explaining how your achievements show that you can add value to the company.

2. Avoid making the letter too long. Four short paragraphs should be sufficient for you to make your point succinctly.

3. Make sure all your contact details are available and if you are due to go away on holiday make sure you include that, too. There is nothing worse from a recruiter's point of view than ringing up a candidate to invite them in for interview only to find that they have gone away for two weeks -- you may end up missing out.

4. Try to avoid flowery language and too much use of the word "I," especially at the beginning of paragraphs. Focus on the company's requirements rather than your own.

5. Structure the letter into four parts. An opening paragraph telling the employer who you are and what you want; a second paragraph outlining what you have to offer emphasising any specific relevant experience or skills; a third paragraph telling the employer why you would be of value and a closing paragraph stating clearly when you are available for interview.

6. Always tailor the letter to the job for which you are applying -- a covering letter to a bank is unlikely to be the same as one to, say, a media production company where you may have more scope for creativity.

7. Keep it concise. If you elaborate too much you lose the effect. Recruiters are busy people and they need to have their attention grabbed quickly when looking through large volumes of applications.

8. Don't try to be too clever and get your personality across in the letter - save it for the interview.

9. Check grammar and spelling meticulously. Sloppy spelling will get your application straight onto the reject pile.

10. If you are snail mailing then always send a typed application, unless the employer has specifically asked for hand-written letters, and use white or cream unlined paper.

Phil Sheridan, UK Managing Director, Robert Half

Robert Half is the world's first and largest specialised recruitment consultancy with a global network of more than 350 offices throughout North America, South America, Europe and the Asia-Pacific region. For more information about our Robert Half please visit http://www.roberthalf.co.uk/