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The Secrets Of The Best Covering Letters - Tips, Advice And Suggestions

Mar 21, 2008
When reading travel industry job applications, I find the covering letter is often treated as an afterthought... a formality only included because convention dictates it should be so. That's actually the wrong way to think about things, and here's why: The CV cover letter is the first thing your contact at the organisation will see, and you don't want it to be the last! With potentially hundreds of applications to wade through, every minute counts for these people, and if your covering letter is poorly written, long winded, dull or generic, there's every chance that the CV you spent all night crafting will never actually be read.

Here's some advice on how to write a covering letter that's sure to make them read your CV - which is the very purpose it is supposed to serve!

Make it unique

A common mistake in the cover letter is to use a generic template - either with minor details like the name of the company and industry changed or, worse, a covering letter suited to anyone but tailored to no one. To stand out, you have to make the effort of targeting your CV cover letter to the job you're interested in. With that in mind, there are some aspects you should make sure you know before you put pen to paper on your covering letter:

There are three things you should know before you begin:

All about the company

If you can drop some details about the company into the CV cover letter, you're making it clear that you're serious about the job and have made an effort in your application. It'll also prove invaluable when you get to interview to be feel comfortable talking about the company's values and history - you may not need it, but if the chance comes up to discuss your homework without feeling forced, then it can't hurt.

All about the job

Make sure you know that job description inside out! It'll list the kind of qualities, experience and qualifications you will need, and it is important to ensure all the points are covered in your covering letter.

The name of your contact

Make an effort to find the name of the contact you need. Personally addressed cover letters tend to have a far better chance of being paid attention to than those generic unspecific missives. If you don't know the name of the manager in charge of the department you're looking to work in, then find out - either through industry contacts, or simply a call to their HR department.

How to write a covering letter

There are two important things to bear in mind when it comes to actually writing up your cover letter - if you stick to these two rules you should be fine: 1) Avoid clichéd positive statements ("I feel that my qualifications and experience suit the demands of the role"), and be specific and unique, and 2) the more succinct you can be, the better. Your covering letter should be as brief as possible, while still acting as an enticing bridge between the job and your CV - if you can't fit everything in, don't be afraid to leave them wanting more (but tell them enough to still be interested!)

Bearing those two covering letter tips in mind, the rest is largely up to you. However, as formats go to ensure you can remember every pertinent detail, this is a rather nice layout, and should take you no more than a page:

Dear (Name - remember the CV cover letter should be as personalized as possible)

Paragraph 1 - This should be a very brief introduction informing them of what job you are looking to apply to. It's tempting here to write where you heard about the position, but as this is a) something everybody does and b) not important, it's just the kind of detail that can be sacrificed in aid of brevity!

Paragraph 2 - This is the point in your cover letter that you launch into your sales pitch. Match your qualities and qualifications to the specifics of the position as advertised, in an enthusiastic manner. Explain what qualities you can offer the company, and not what the company can do for you! This is the ideal opportunity to drop in any relevant details you've found while researching the company, but don't force it if it doesn't seem natural.

Paragraph 3 - This is where you should be sealing the deal! 2-4 sentences, tops and with something - a statement or question - which will make the reader want to get in contact with you. You should also include contact details, your availability and an invitation to find out more about you. You should also draw attention to your attached CV, which will give a lot more detail than the covering letter you have just concluded.

One final covering letter tip for when you close: sign it appropriately. A quick refresher course: It's "Yours sincerely" if you know the name of the person involved, and "Yours faithfully" if you do not. If you are mailing a copy, sign it by hand in blue ink, to make it obvious you have taken the time to sign it personally and have not used a photocopy.

There are no hard and fast rules of how to write a covering letter, but it should be the connecting point between your CV and the job you want - it needs to fill in the gaps that your CV cannot reveal on its own. Although my experience is mainly in travel industry jobs, the advice should be universal: keep it brief and make them want to learn more and you should be onto a winner - provided your CV doesn't let you down.
About the Author
Gail Kenny is the managing director of Gail Kenny Executive Search, an executive travel recruitment agency specializing in travel industry jobs. The site caters exclusively to talented individuals with skills and experience to succeed in the travel management, and businesses looking for such candidates.
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