Cover letters are, arguably, the most important part of a job application, although most people spend the least amount of time working on them. When an employer has hundreds of CVs to shortlist from, cover letters set the tone of a job application, and should inspire the reader to turn over enthusiastically and read the enclosed CV.
In general, letters should be no longer than one page unless there are clear instructions to the contrary. Presentation is of the utmost important and, unless a handwritten letter is specifically requested, the letter should always be typed and laser-printed onto high quality paper.
It is advisable to make sure that you actually match any essential criteria specified in the job advertisement before you send in your application. For example, if a job advertisement specifies that the candidate must have ten years experience in IT support, and you have only four years experience, there is probably very little point in your applying for the position. However, there are some circumstances in which some degree of flexibility may apply. An example of this could be if the job requires an “excellent working knowledge of the Microsoft Office Suite” and, although you have no practical experience it its application, you have recently completed the CLAIT qualification so do have a good theoretical knowledge. It is a matter of judgment, but clearly you don’t wish to waste either your time, or the recruiter’s time.
Be sure to read the advertisement very carefully so that you can address the letter correctly and mark it for the attention of the designated member of staff. You should also include the title of the job you are applying for and any reference numbers given – often, companies will be seeking candidates for various positions and will want to see clearly which job is being applied for.
The first paragraph should be relatively brief and explain quite simply where you saw the advertisement and on what date. In the main body of the letter you should then go on to highlight your skills and experience in more detail. If certain criteria are mentioned in the advertisement, you should ideally try to explain exactly how you match these – with brief but relevant examples that demonstrate your suitability. Also, say why you want to work for that organization in particular, referring to any research that you have carried out on the organization to emphasize that you fully understand them and the way they operate.
The final paragraph should conclude the letter with any other information requested in the advertisement such as salary and availability for interview. And before you send it off, do read through the advertisement once more to ensure that you have fully satisfied the criteria, keeping an awareness of the specified closing date.