02 Oct Covering letters

Covering letters should catch the recruiters eye…. Not drone on and put them to sleep!

Now that you have completed last weeks assignments- you know what you want, what your strengths and weaknesses are and what salary you want, you are ready to start applying for jobs, so you will need a covering letter!

You will write covering letters for two occasions:-

  1. Applying for job adverts
  2. Marketing your CV to companies that you do not know if they have a vacancy or not.

In the above cases, a covering letter is NOT an opportunity to:-

  • Drone on about how wonderful you are.
  • It’s not an extension of your CV
  • It’s not you CV
  • And it’s not a chance to try guilt the recruiter into employing you!

Here’s a few pointers on how to write a covering letter:

  1. Make it Quick!Long letters will not get read. You have 2 seconds to grab their attention- if you are successful, another 2 and so on.  Try and keep it to ½ a page– maybe 3-4 paragraphs.
  2. Get Personal!(And not about yourself!) Address the letter to the right person- you stand a good chance to get it read by the right person.  Address is “To whom it may concern” and any admin clerk could read it.  A little bit of homework to find out who to address you application to could make all the difference!
  3. Clarify what you want.If you are applying for a particular position- state which position it is.  Most recruiters are dealing with several positions and don’t have the time to contact you to ask what you are sending your CV for.  If you can’t be bothered to say why you are emailing your CV, why should they bother to ask?  The first thing that I look at in an email, is what is this email for?  Once I know, I know what we are communicating about.
  4. Grammar, punctuation and formatting.This is crucial! In today’s times of SMS, BBM, Twitter- people forget that a business letter is a business letter, and there is no excuse for abbreviations and sms format letters.  Yesterday we posted a letter from a recruiter who took 899 applications down to a handful on the covering letter- tomorrow we will post a few examples of the covering letters he received- totally unprofessional!  Sit back and look at your letter- is it neatly laid out and appealing to the eye?  Get someone to proof read it for you.  You have no idea how important simple, correct English is at this level! Keep paragraphs to 2-3 lines each- remember this is not another version of your CV- it’s a short letter to get your CV read by the right person.  At most you can mention your best three points for the position you are applying for, in point form, a few words per point.
  5. Put a heading under the salutation.  Something simple that will grab their attention.  Make it bold, centred and underlines if you want.  Try “Accountant- BCom graduate, available immediately and willing to prove themselves”, or “Matriculating- received two distinctions, computer literate, drivers licence, wanting a position in which to prove themselves through excellent work ethic”
  6. Show intent. Follow up  Ask in the covering letter when you can expect feedback, and state that you will follow up… and follow up.  If you really believe that you are the best person for the job, and not randomly sending your CV to hundreds of adverts, then you should fight to have your CV considered!  So many times people email us after a year of never having their CV’s considered, disgruntled and feeling that we are victimising them…. Only to discover they have been sending their CV’s to the wrong address, or their work server has been blocking incoming or outgoing emails from us… and if they has just followed up…..
  7. Contact details. Don’t forget to put them on your letter!  Your letter should be signed from your full name, with your telephone number, email address and any other contact details you wish to share.
  8. Cover Letter Templates. Don’t use them!  Be original!  There is a stunning Dale Carnegie covering letter.  In his book, it really makes a point how to win the reader’s attention.  But when it is sent to me, word for word by a job seekers who obviously does not give Mr Carnegie credit- it comes across as insincere and plagiarism. And when I get a letter that starts, “To whom it may concern.  I have always admired your company and wanted to work for such a dynamic institution”… well…. RESOURCE recruitment appreciates you sentiments, but we are not looking for staff right now, our clients are, and you don’t know who they are.  Keep it simple and sincere.

So, to recap:

  • Address your letter to the right person
  • Write the title of the position in the subject line of the email “Application for position of….”
  • Write an eye catching heading.
  • Write 2-3 paragraphs, or 3-4 lines each, stating the reason for your email/ CV submission and listing your three best attributes for the position
  • End the letter saying that you will follow up… and follow up.
  • Sign the letter off with your contact detail
  • And always check your spelling, grammar, formatting and professional image.


Below is an example of how 899 applications for a job, can be reduced to a handful, without the CV even being opened!  It shows how important a covering letter and email etiquette can be, to making a professional first impression.  If you ever wondered how potential employers short list positions, here is an example.

I received this letter from an employer out there, who saw our on line course and wanted to contribute job seekers.

Dear Kirsten,

I am an engineer looking for a trainee. I pushed hard to create this position and the application process has been a disaster. This has made the company think twice about getting trainees in to do their practical experience.

My e-mail address was inadvertently put on as the responding e-mail address.

The advert went to one Technikon to limit the response. We would normally get 6 – 10 people responding. I underestimated the social networking capability from people that read it and passed it on.

Here is a list of problems that you may wish to add to your document.

  1. It went viral and I am getting responses from all over.
  2. My mail box was blocked with the volume.
  3. One of the criteria was accuracy. I received blank e-mails with no attachments.
  4. I received lots from phones with no salutation, no writing and no formal ending.
  5. I received e-mails up to 18MB.
  6. I received a set of 6 e-mails. Each one a photograph from a Blackberry of the pages of the CV.
  7. Titles incorrect. If you can’t get that part right then the need for accuracy is not important to you so neither are you to me.
  8. Apply for positions not advertised. It was for electrical and respondents were instrumentation, mechanical, civil and even musicians.
  9. Some people sent every day for the 5 day period that it was open for.
  10. Some people sent in and then decided to send again adding information.
  11. Some people sent different formats of the same information with different titles in the subject line of the e-mail. If you didn’t get it right the first time your accuracy is not at the level I require.

My selection criteria.

Delete if

  1. No subject title in the e-mail. No idea about business etiquette. Here I deleted 58
  2. Greater than 2MB. No idea of computers and compression. No idea how your e-mail of 18MB messes up things. This dropped 180 of 899.
  3. Anyone applying for a position other than advertised. Logical. Lost about another 30.
  4. Anyone sending in more than one e-mail. If you think that a company has excessive time to keep reading and or printing your e-mail. Reduced by another 345.
  5. Spelling mistakes in the subject line of the e-mail. Accuracy! Don’t know. Just deleted them.
  6. Anyone greeting me in the subject line of the e-mail. You don’t know me and I’m not interested in e-mails that could be a scam. Greetings Mr. Engineer. 2 deleted.
  7. Any e-mail where FW: or Re: appears in the subject line of the e-mail. If someone can’t send it directly to me rather than through a 3rd person, I’m not interested. 60 FW: and 6 RE:

Here I deleted at least 681.  Sad but as an engineer I’m not equipped to even respond to the people individually. I don’t expect many companies are. I will put up a letter on the notice board thanking those that responded and if they did not receive a response, then they were unsuccessful.

If you ever get the chance to address students (I can arrange if you require) about writing a CV, I am willing to assist in any way. It is a huge shame that once having completed your studies and passing, you cannot get employment. You may even be the best person for the job but if you can’t sell yourself, no one will employ you. Maybe Marketing 101 should be offered to everyone!

Thanking you again for your continued input to assisting the job market.




  1. Skinner


(Please note that this is an old position that he advertised, and we are not looking for in service students.)