The dos and don’ts of covering letters

At this time of year many students and soon-to-be graduates will be thinking about applying for jobs and summer internships. We’ve recently blogged about CV writing, but it’s just as important to get your covering letter right. (Some busy recruiters won’t bother looking at your CV if your covering letter is full of mistakes). In the spirit of research we’ve looked over some of the letters gradireland has received in the past to shortlist some tips on the dos – and don’ts – of covering letters.

  • When applying by email (the norm nowadays) attach the CV AND covering letter to the email, and make clear in the subject line that it’s a job application. (This may sound blindingly obvious, but you’d be surprised at how many people don’t get this right.)
  • Where possible, always address the recruiter by name. This will normally be given on the advert, but if it isn’t, give the company a call to get the right contact details. ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ usually looks lazy.
  • If you’re unsure of the best way to address the recruiter once you’ve got their name, err on the side of polite formality: ‘Dear Mr/Ms Bloggs’ or ‘Dear Joe Bloggs’ is better than simply: ‘Mr Bloggs’; but avoid addressing them by their first name only. If the recruiter writes back and greets you informally then you can respond in kind, but always take your cue from them.
  • Keep the content simple and don’t feel you have to write an essay. Clear and concise always beats long and flowery. Covering letters shouldn’t be more than a page long, and keep your CV at two pages maximum.
  • Don’t just list all the experience you’ve ever had: instead, choose considered examples that correspond with the requirements given in the ad.
  • Avoid adjectival clichés such as ‘challenging’ and ‘rewarding’ (yawn). Similarly, steer clear of annoying jargon like ‘leverage’, ‘implement’ and ‘solution’ (unless they are used in the ad)!
  • Back up your skills with concise examples of how you’ve demonstrated them.
  • Sign off correctly: it’s always ‘Yours sincerely’ if you’ve addressed the person by name; ‘Yours faithfully’ if you’ve written to ‘Sir/Madam’.

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