Writing Cover Letters and Presenting Job Applications and Enquiries


The cover letter - or covering letter - is an essential part of any job application or enquiry.

Whether your are responding to a job advertisement or simply letting an employer know that you are available, the cover letter informs the employer's first impression of you, and so it is crucial that it is well written and presents you in the best possible light.

If your letter has any of the following faults the employer may not even read your CV or resume.

  • The letter is too long - or contains irrelevant information.
  • The letter fails to contain essential information.
  • The letter is dirty, creased or has untidy corrections.
  • The letter is hand written.
  • The letter is poorly formatted.
  • The letter contains spelling or grammatical errors.  
  • The tone of the letter is too informal or is otherwise inappropriate.  

This knol will help you avoid faults such as these, and ensure a favourable reception for your CV or resume.  Whether you are changing jobs or simply looking for an internship, the benefit you will get from having a great cover letter will more than repay the modest effort and attention to detail that is required in its preparation.  

Curriculum Vitae
"
 a brief biographical résumé of one's career and training, as prepared by a person applying for a job."  - Dictionary.com
More common term in the UK
Résumé
"a brief written account of personal, educational, and professional qualifications and experience, as that prepared by an applicant for a job."   - Dictionary.com
More common term in the USA

The content of the cover letter will depend on whether you are responding to an advertised vacancy or enquiring about potential vacancies.  In either case, however, you should use your letter to:
  • Introduce yourself.
  • Persuade the employer to read your CV or resume.
  • Say what job you are interested in and when you will be available to start.
  • Say why you want that particular job – with that particular employer.
  • Draw attention to the items in your CV, resume or application form that demonstrate that you possess the required skills for the job. 


The Response Letter

When responding to an advertised vacancy, you will normally either submit a CV or resume, or complete a specific application form.  Your submission should be accompanied by a cover letter, which should be brief and concise - normally no more than one side.

"I have made this [letter] longer, because I have not had the time to make it shorter."
Blaise Pascal

The letter sketched below shows how to structure and write a response letter.  Feel free to use it as a template for your own letters.  


<Your address>
<Your phone number>
<Your email address>
<Employer's address>

<Today’s date>


Dear Sir

I am writing in response to your advertisement in <wherever advertised> for the post of <name of post>.
I am a final year student on the <name of course> at the <name of college>, and expect to graduate on <graduation date> with <expected classification or grade average>.  I will be available for employment from <earliest start date>.  I am particularly interested in the advertised post because <reason for interest>.
You may be interested to note the following items on my curriculum vitae, which are particularly relevant to <name of post>.
  • <item 1>
  • <item 2>

If you need any further information, please do not hesitate to contact me.  I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours faithfully
<sign your name here – i.e. by hand>
<type your name here>


The Enquiry Letter

The enquiry letter is different from the response letter.  In this case, no vacancy has been advertised. You are initiating contact with the company to inform them of your skills and availability, and to suggest that they consider you for any vacancies that arise.  This is sometimes called a cold callspeculative or enquiry letter.
 
Before writing an enquiry letter you must identify the individual in the target company to whom it should be addressed: an enquiry sent to the wrong person is likely to end up in the shredder.  Normally you should address your enquiry to the person responsible for recruitment.  In a large company, this might be the head of a department with a name such as:

  • Human Resources (HR)
  • Recruitment
  • Staffing

The terminology varies from organisation to organisation - and region to region.

In a smaller company there may not be a specific HR department.  In this case you might try telephoning the company to ask for the name of the most appropriate person to receive your CV or resume.  In either case it is always best if you can identify an individual by name, rather than just job title.

Even though your enquiry is addressed to the head of HR, the person that you really need to impress is the head of the department that you want to work in, so you need to do some research to be sure that you understand the kind of work that they do.  Indeed, you might also send that person a copy of your enquiry - in addition to the head of HR.

Your enquiry will usually consist of a CV or resume, together with a cover letter.  The letter should be brief and concise - normally no more than one side.  For example:


<Your address>
<Your phone number>
<Your email address>
<Employer's address>
<Today’s date>


Dear Mr. Jones
I am a final year student on the <name of course> at the <name of college> and I am contacting you to let you know that I would like to be considered for any vacancies that you have for <job title or description> .  I am particularly interested in this work because <reason for interest>, and I believe that I have the potential to make a valuable contribution to your company.
I expect to graduate on <graduation date> with <expected classification or grade average> and I will be available for employment from <earliest start date>.  
You may be interested to note the following items on my curriculum vitae/resume, which are particularly relevant to this post.
  • <item 1>
  • <item 2>

If you need any further information, please do not hesitate to contact me.  I look forward to hearing from you.
Thank you for your attention.

Yours sincerely
<sign your name here – i.e. by hand>
<type your name here>



Other Forms of Communication with a Potential Employer

You may sometimes be required to communicate with a potential employer in ways other than letter.  You should always do so carefully to ensure that you make the best possible impression.

Email

In email communication it is acceptable to be a little less formal than you might be in a letter, but you should still ensure that your spelling and grammar are correct.  Be courteous, include an informative subject field and avoid using the normal email or SMS abbreviations.  Do not use a personal email address that might give a negative impression.  For example, the following addresses are definitely unsuitable:

sleepsallday@hotmail.com
sexysue@gmail.com
needmorebeer@hotmail.com

Telephone

Being unprepared and disorganised on the telephone is probably the most common way to make a poor impression.  Before making any important telephone call, ensure that you:

  • know exactly what you want to achieve by making the call
  • have a plan for how you intend to achieve it
  • are in a quiet location where you will not be interrupted

It is best if you know the name or job title of the person that you want to speak to.  If not you will need to ask for help from whoever answers the telephone:
"Hello.  May I please speak to someone who can help me in connection with ..."
When you do get to speak to someone who is in a position to help, ask their name and take a note of it.  Take written notes of all the key information that you are given.

If you need to make a follow-up call it saves a lot of time if you can speak to the same person again as this avoids the need to explain the background to your call.

The Application Form

You will frequently be asked to complete, or fill out, a specific application form.  If you are supplied with an electronic copy of the form, this is ideal.  It enables you to edit, proofread and re-edit until you are completely sure that everything is just perfect.  The final copy will be tidy and error-free.

If you are required to complete a paper form, then you need to be a little more careful and methodical.  You must avoid, at all costs, submitting a form that is dirty or has untidy corrections.
    1. Make a photocopy of the original form - better still, make two or three copies.
    2. Draft your answers on the photocopy.
    3. Do all your proofreading, editing and correcting on the photocopy.
    4. When you’re absolutely certain that what you have written is complete and accurate, then you can transfer the information carefully and neatly onto the original form.  Use a black pen – the employer may want to photocopy it.

      Answer all questions as fully as you are able to.
      • If a question seems not to be applicable to you, you may indicate this by writing "NA".
      • Do not say in answer to any question – “see my CV” or "see answer to previous question".

      Keep Accurate Records

      Keep a copy of all letters and documents sent and received, and a record of all telephone conversations - with dates, times and the names of the people you spoke to.


      Write, Read, Revise ... Repeat ...

      Writing is an incremental process that includes multiple cycles of proofreading and revising.  It can be difficult to proofread your own writing, because you will tend to see what you meant to write rather than what you actually wrote.  The ideal solution is to get a friend to proofread your writing for you, but if this is not possible then the following advice may be helpful.

      • Read your letter aloud to yourself - this often uncovers problems that would otherwise go unnoticed.
      • Do not try to do everything at the one session - leave some time between writing and proofreading.

      You will find helpful advise on writing - including punctuation and grammar -  in Olson (1999) and Purdue University (2008).


      Finally

      In all communication with a potential employer, emphasise the positive:

      • Clearly indicate your positive attributes – emphasising those that are most relevant to the vacancy.
      • Say nothing about your negative attributes – unless you’re specifically asked.
      • Be truthful – do not tell any lies.

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