You wouldn’t be alone in thinking that the covering letter is just a tick box exercise – something you’re supposed to do. But it’s actually an opportunity for you to tell a potential employer just how fantastic and how suitable for the role you are.
If you want to pack a punch and get the job, you need to know how to write a brilliant covering letter. Recruiters are busy and likely looking through a heck load of applications. So, if you want them to take the time to read your submission, you need to take the time to make it worth reading.
I had a chat with two of my Careers+Placements colleagues: Sym, one of our Placement Coordinators; and Suneeta, who works directly with employers recruiting students. Between us we’ve seen more covering letters than you can shake a stick at (hundreds).
Here’s our advice for writing a covering letter that will ensure you’re considered for the role, and get you some extra marks from the recruiter.
- Start each covering letter from scratch
Templates are great for giving you an idea of what to include. However, we suggest you start from scratch. It makes it easier for you to really tailor what you’re writing. You need to match your skills, your experience and your interests to the role you’re applying for, and it’s difficult to do this when you’re using a template. It also means you can avoid dodgy copy and paste jobs that leave you writing to Nestlé about a role with Cadbury’s.
- Format it professionally
In 2020, you’re almost certainly going to be submitting your application by email rather than post. But that doesn’t mean you can get away with sloppy formatting, oh no. Here are a few things to do to make sure your formatting is on point.
– Include your contact details in the top right corner. Your address, email address and phone number would be great. NB: Your email address should be professional – email@example.com is not professional. Nor is firstname.lastname@example.org
– Ideally, you’d do some sleuthing and find out the name of the hiring manager. If you’re able to do this, start with ‘Dear Ms Walters,’ for example. If you don’t know their name, ‘Dear Pepsi Recruitment Team’ is fine.
– Make sure you sign off. A good way to end your covering letter would be to write something along the lines of ‘I look forward to hearing from you. Yours sincerely, Tom Jones’.
– Aim for no more than one side of A4. You want to include all the relevant information that supports your application, but any longer than that and it likely won’t get read.
- Expand on how suitable you are for the role
They’ve listed time management as one of the essential skills on the person specification, and you’re acknowledging this in your covering letter. Great. Rather than say ‘I have great time management skills’, you need to show it. Have you developed your time management through working a part-time job or volunteering alongside your studies? Perhaps you’ve juggled your studies with a society you’re involved in. Draw on these experiences and talk about the tools you’ve used – whether it be making to-do lists, having a planner, or structuring your day in a certain way.
- Talk about what you can bring to the role
I’ve looked through covering letters before in which students have expressed their interest in the role because it will give them experience in marketing, or an opportunity to earn money. I already know this. What I’m interested in, is what you can bring to the role, rather than the other around. Can you bring a passion for helping others? An enthusiasm for digital marketing? Experience coordinating events?
- Include what attracts you to the role
You might have read on a company website that they’re proud to have a diverse work force. If this is something that appeals to you, use it. For example, ‘I’m excited by the prospect of working alongside people from different backgrounds and walks of life.’ It’s worth checking out their social media channels for this kind of information. For example, Ferrero UK & Ireland recently tweeted that the WWF has ranked their palm oil the most sustainable in the industry. If you can acknowledge this in your covering letter, and say why it’s important to you, it shows both that you’ve done your homework, and that you’re enthusiastic about joining the team.
- Proofread before you send
Sending a covering letter littered with errors is the equivalent of turning up to an interview with bran flakes in your beard and ketchup on your shirt. It creates a poor first impression. Don’t be tempted to rush it, because it really can make all the difference. Take the time to check your spelling, grammar and punctuation. And if you can, ask someone else to check it, too. A family member, a friend, or one of the Placement Coordinators or Careers Consultants.
If you would like any further help with writing a covering letter, we’ve got even more pearls of wisdom tucked up our sleeves.
You can contact a Careers Consultant at email@example.com, or if you’re in second year searching for a placement, you can contact a Placement Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com