“To apply for this position, send a copy of your CV and a covering letter…”

Or, equally terrifying on an application form: “Please provide an outline of your skills and experience”

These are the things that strikes real fear into the heart of the jobseeker. Your ideal position is up for grabs, you’ve got your updated, professional-looking CV ready to send – the shop window of all your skills and experience – and now they want a covering letter as well.

What do you write in it? How long should it be? What do these people want to read, and what are they looking for?

Well basically, what they are looking for is a reason to look at your CV. Your CV is all about you – the cover letter is about the job you’re applying for, and why you’d be perfect for it. And ideally, you should try to do this in no more than one side of A4, typewritten (unless they’ve asked for handwritten, of course).

In your covering letter, you need to make it as easy as possible for the reader to see why they should find out more about you; and the best way to do this is to use the information you have about the job – whether it’s the details given in the advert, or a full job specification they’ve provided in an application pack.

Start with the person description, or Essential Skills info. In your draft letter, list them out in order, and write a short paragraph under each one about how you can evidence these skills. Make it really obvious by giving a quick example of a time when you’ve demonstrated it. Here’s an example

 Strong Communication Skills

It’s been essential for me to possess exceptional communication skills in every role I’ve held. I have helped customers with queries on a daily basis, given presentations to my manager and team members about new ways of managing stock, and created written proposals for the senior management team about a new IT system we could adopt.

Here, you’ve shown that you can communicate effectively on a one-to-one basis and to groups; verbally and in writing, and to people at different levels of the organisation; and with customers as well. Lots of information about your experience in one short paragraph, that is all relevant to an essential skill in the job you’re applying for.

Keep going like this until you’ve covered the most important skill areas, and you’re approaching one full page. If you think you might be running over, then look at editing what you’ve written, or reducing the number of skills you’re covering.

Finally, start writing the introductory and closing paragraphs. The first could include things like where you saw the advert, and why you are attracted to working for the company. The second could include your keenness to meet them at interview, and perhaps even your availability, if you think it’s relevant.

When you’ve finished, ask someone else to read it through from the perspective of the employer, and see what they think.

Good luck! The covering letter doesn’t have to be scary. Use the structure you’ve been given by the job description and you’ll be well on your way. And if you’re really stuck, you can always contact me for some help.

And in case you missed last week’s blog, here’s how to get started on your brilliant CV.

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