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As a National Careers Service adviser, Annie Todd has supported hundreds of adult clients with their job applications. Here she explains why the covering letter is a vital tool for job seekers and 5 things to avoid when writing yours. 


I'm often asked if a covering letter is still required in these days of online applications and CV uploads. My answer is yes, always! Increasingly it’s a covering email rather than a letter and it’s key to ensuring that the employer wants to open your CV and read more about you. Just make sure you don’t make these 5 common mistakes:

  1. Sending a standard covering letter
    Don’t send out identical covering letters – if you want to make an impact you need to personalise each one showing how your skills and suitability directly relate to the job advertised. 
  2. Writing an essay
    Keep your letter short and punchy: just 3-4 short paragraphs on one side of A4.
  3. Copying and pasting your CV
    Don’t copy chunks of your CV into your covering letter. You want the employer to open and read your CV so use the letter to sell yourself, giving  highlights to spark their interest.
  4. Using non-standard English
    Eliminate all abbreviations and jargon. Also ban smiley faces and exclamation marks.
  5. Sloppy mistakes and presentation
    You need to make a good first impression so make sure it looks professional and doesn’t contain any typos or spelling/grammatical errors. As with your CV always get someone to check it for you before you hit send.

Your cover letter should include:

  • Addressee: where possible find out the name of the person you are sending your CV/Application form to, so you can address them personally.
  • Opening paragraph: you need to grab their attention. Start off by stating which job you are applying for and how you heard about it. Then explain what you know about the organisation and why you want to work for them.   
  • Second and third paragraphs: this is where you sell yourself to the company and emphasise how you are the right person for the job. Read the job description and person specification carefully, what sort of a person are they looking for? Give a summary of your experience relating to the particular job and what you can do for the company.
  • Final paragraph: always end on a positive note, eg. Please find enclosed my CV in application and I look forward to the opportunity to discuss the position further (in other words give me an interview). And be sure to use the correct form of address: remember the famous knight Sir Faithful and his good friend Mr Sincere: Dear Sir or Madam should end with Yours faithfully, Dear Mr, Mrs or Ms should end with Yours sincerely.

"No one can discover you until you do. Exploit your talents, skills and strengths and make the world sit up and take notice.” Rob Liano, Rock Star Success Coach & Sales Strategist

You'll find more advice on covering letters on the National Careers Service website. You can also get help from our local advisers.

Next time………How to shine at interviews.


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