Insights from practitioners in Information Management

Issue 19 – Covering letters

We hope that you found last months newsletter of interest and value, it would be wonderful to hear your comments on the subject – good or bad. Whilst some of you may need to re-vamp your CV, there will be others amongst you who are quite happy with the layout and format and see no reason to take another look at the document.  Please bear in mind that your CV along with the rest of your application should be written specifically for each job that you apply for.  One CV (and for that matter, covering letter or statement addressing the selection criteria) does not fit all. Taking a look from the other side of the fence for just a minute – you can tell immediately, through writing style and tone of voice, whether you have cut and paste parts of your application from others that you have sent out.  Take the time to re-read old applications and critique them.  Where did you fail? What did you say? How did you say it? Would a prospective employer be excited at the thought of meeting you?

Not only do you need to tailor your application – yes, each and every one that you send out, but you should also be excited at the prospect of working for the organisation that you have chosen.  How will YOU make a difference? Why should anyone employ YOU and not someone else?  If you find yourself using a negative tone of voice, re-read it and re-write it.  The prospective employer does not need to know that you are their last hope between you and the dole queue.

If you bear in mind that your application has but one role – and that is to get you to the interview stage.  If you fail to impress on paper, then it is highly unlikely that you will be doing it in person. Which is why a covering letter is so very important and sets the tone for your entire application.

We hope you enjoy reading.  Have a great week.

In this Issue we will be looking at:
• Common Blunders;
• Format;
• What should be included;
• Examples of covering letters;
• A Thought to Ponder;
• The use of Hotmail.

Common Blunders
I will start off with the “do not do this or else” scenario, as these really do have the power to make or break your application.
• Not added a covering letter at all;
• You have started the letter with a dear sir or madam – re-read the application package very carefully, it should tell you who you need to address the application to.  If it is not in the application package, then check the advertisement, or telephone the organisation and find out….Whilst you are on the telephone, make sure you ask a couple of intelligent questions about the job as well.  (By that I mean nothing that can be found in the application package if you could only be bothered to read it!);
• Your covering letter is a “standard” one, and contains more clichés than an employer could throw a stick at.  For example “I am looking for a challenging position that will enable me to contribute to organisational goals while offering an opportunity for growth and advancement.” This type of statement is overused and far too general, and wastes valuable space.
• Your covering letter is not signed;
• Your covering letter is just a resume of your resume.  You want the reader to have something new and interesting to read once they get into the actual application, so adding it all to your covering letter makes it far too long, and yawn – boring.  Bear in mind that if you use the same words and phrases in your covering letter, your CV and your Statement addressing the selection criteria, you may be seen as boring and repetitive. Remember first impressions really do count.  Whilst you are not going for a job as a creative writer, you do need to craft your letter to ensure that it flows and makes the reader want to read more about you.

• Use standard 80gsm white paper – the stuff you can buy for $5 a ream from the supermarkets.  Coloured paper can make your application stand out for all the wrong reasons.
• Use black type face – remember your application will be photocopied.
• Use the same font size and type for your covering letter that you have used for the rest of your application.  Try not to use fonts that are difficult to read – For Example, Or this one, and don’t ever try to copy your handwriting style.  If an employer wants a handwritten letter then make sure it is.  This newsletter is written in Garamond.  However I would recommend using Verdana, Ariel or the standard Times New Roman (11, 11 and 12 font sizes respectively). I know that I have said this before, but it needs repeating.  You are trying to make it easy for a prospective employer to “like you” – if you make your application hard to read, then chances are they may see you as being “difficult” “high maintenance” “seeks attention” and so on.  Rightly or wrongly – our book – the first 4 minutes is all about how to make a good impression – yes in the four minutes or so it takes to read an application.
• Check for spelling and grammar.  Do not rely on your computer to do it for you.  After all, you might have the write word but if it’s used in the wrong context, then chances are you’re heading straight for the “thanks but no thanks pile.” Especially if the rest of your application is poorly presented.

What should be included
Covering letters are essentially sales letters, so they must be written with the customer in mind. They should always focus on what you can do for the customer, not what they can offer you.

A covering letter should always be constructed in the format of a traditional business letter, so name and contact details are important.  Always date your correspondence.  Always start with Dear XXXX and finish with one of the traditional types of ending Yours Faithfully, Yours Sincerely, and your first name and surname in full (helpful in case your signature is illegible). 

The problem that most people make is the bit that goes in the middle.

A covering letter should have between 3 and 4 paragraphs.  The first paragraph should explain why you are writing to the person.  Use the second paragraph to emphasise why the organisation should meet you.  If you find yourself writing more than 3 or 4 sentences then you should consider breaking this paragraph in half. The third/last paragraph should be used to ask for a meeting. 

Examples of Covering Letters

Do not do this….

123 Any Street

16th March 2004

Dear Sir or Madam

Please find enclosed my application for the position of chief laboratory analyst.

Yours Sincerely

Josie Bloggs

“Lab analysts do it in test tubes”
Example of a good covering letter:

789 Any Street
Tel: 02 1234 5678
Mob: 0401234567


Mr Jim Smith
Chief Analyst
Chemical Company
Technology Park

Dear Mr Smith

I would like to apply for the position of Senior Laboratory Analyst (Position Number 123) as advertised in the XYZ paper on DD Month, YYYY. 

I am currently working as a Laboratory Analyst with ABC Chemical Company. I have 3 years experience at a supervisory level, with emphasis placed on excellent time management, communication and team work. As a shift supervisor, I am responsible for ensuring completion of work in accordance with all quality and safety guidelines. As Senior Laboratory Analyst with Chemical Company I feel that these skills and abilities possessed by myself would greatly enhance the team you already have in place.

I look forward to meeting with you to discuss my application in greater depth.  I can be contacted on my mobile or email during the day, or on my home telephone after 6.00pm.

Yours Sincerely

Josephine Bloggs
A word from IEA on the use of Hotmail:

A final word about email addresses – please make sure that you use a “professional” email address, libchick1, elvisthechicken2003 etc etc will not portray you in the best possible light.  If you choose to use the free HOTMAIL account, can you ensure that you do not have your account set on exclusive – as legitimate email addresses will bounce. 

If you still decide to use Hotmail and choose to have your address book set on exclusive we would appreciate you adding and to your address book so that we can save paper, and stop the bounce backs. This is vital because if we cannot reach you by telephone, then we do make use of the email facility if we have work that we think you might be interested in.

Please note: If you would like a free email account, Yahoo does not seem to suffer from the same email spam problem as Hotmail.  Yahoo also has a Spam filter….

A Thought to Ponder:
“Discipline is the foundation upon which all success is built.  Lack of discipline inevitably leads to failure.”
Jim Rohn