The Purpose of a Covering Letter & How to Write a Great One

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September 2019

Written by Adam Richardson (adam.richardson@arresourcing.com), Managing Director and Owner of AR Resourcing. Adam has 20 years’ experience recruiting preconstruction, procurement and commercial professionals across the built environment industries.

Covering letters matter more than many candidates realise. A tailored, focused covering letter will get a mediocre CV onto most shortlists. A generic covering letter will often see good candidates rejected without their CV even being considered.

There is a lot of detail in most CVs and recruiters and hiring managers don’t have time to review them all in detail. With dozens, sometimes even hundreds of applications per job advert it would take hours to review every CV and that is time recruiters and hiring managers simply don’t have. Instead, employers rely on covering letters to identify which candidates’ applications are most promising and merit further investigation.  

In other words, the hours you put into your CV will likely be pointless if you don’t invest time and effort in your covering letters.

HOW TO WRITE A COVERING LETTER

The purpose of a covering letter is a) to focus the prospective employer’s attention on your most relevant experience and achievements and b) to articulate how the role motivates you. All too often, however, covering letters appear to detail the achievements that the applicant is most proud of irrespective of whether or not they are relevant to the job description. 

To avoid falling into this trap before you put pen to paper, highlight the key requirements of the job spec, then highlight the corresponding experience and achievements on your CV. A well-written job description lists the skills and experience the employer is looking for in order of diminishing importance so focus on those at the start of the list. 

Next, do some research into the company and role so that you can communicate what it is about the opportunity that excites you.

THE COVERING LETTER FORMULA

There is a generally accepted formula for writing cover letters. Sticking to it will help the prospective employer quickly find the information they are looking for maximising your chances of them moving onto your CV. 

Greeting line: Wherever possible try to identify the name of the person who the covering letter should be addressed to – if some covering letters use the right name and your letter uses a generic job title your application already looks slapdash. If you can’t identify the individual then address it to the appropriate job title e.g. “Dear hiring manager,”; “Dear HR director,” or similar. 

Opening paragraph: Briefly introduce yourself and state your interest in the role, for example, “I am a procurement manager with 15 years’ experience working on rail projects and am writing to apply for the role of xxxxxxx which I saw advertised with AR Resourcing.”

Paragraph 2: Briefly explain your interest in both the role and the company. 

Paragraph 3: Match your experience and achievements to the role focusing on the key skills and experience outlined in the job description.

Closing paragraph: Reiterate your interest in the role and the company before explaining that you look forward to hearing from them.

Sign off: How you addressed the letter (the greeting) will determine how you sign it off. If you addressed the letter to a named individual, sign off ‘Yours sincerely’, however, if you used a general greeting, sign off ‘Yours faithfully’.

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