Put yourself in your own shop window

You’ve heard it at least a dozen times. But it remains true nevertheless: you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. And in many cases that first impression is your cover letter or email.

It’s what employers see first and, if they don’t like what they see, your CV may be left unread. Consider yourself a High Street trader and think about your shop window. Would you pile up every item you sell? No. You would select the most tempting items that would entice potential customers through the door? That’s your cover letter.

  • Keep it short – certainly no more than one side of paper or a maximum of 400 words on an email.
  • Make sure it is clearly set out and easy to read – take a look online for layout examples.
  • Make it specific and personalised: avoid Dear sir/madam and instead check the advert to see if there’s a name or, if it’s a speculative letter, look for the head of the department you would like to work in. 
  • Get the spelling of the company name right! Obvious? You’d be surprised how many applicants fall at this very first hurdle. Is it Sainsbury, J.Sainsbury, Sainsburys or Sainsbury’s? Specsavers or SpecSavers Macdonalds or McDonald’s?
  • Include all your relevant contact details and, if your email address starts with a nickname or something unprofessional . . . change it!

Keeping your shop window in mind, the first paragraph of your letter is the item that sits slap bang in the middle of it. You need to make an immediate impact with two or three choice highlights of your career or experience, preferably relevant to the job.

So for example: As soon as I saw your job advertised, I knew straight away that my success as an online sales person/my ability to quickly establish relationships with customers/my work with <previous company name>... would make me an ideal candidate.

Next you should expand – briefly – on that by mentioning previous relevant experience. Remember, you should be complementing your CV, not repeating it. What you are trying to do is match your skills to those required. 

Then demonstrate how you are a good fit for the company – its principles, purpose and areas of business. Again, don’t opt for a generic ‘I share many of your values . . .’ Explain why you do and how they fit with your own ambitions. It’s also a good way to demonstrate you’ve done your homework on the company.

Finally, sum up why you are excited about the prospect of working for the business and that you look forward to demonstrating that in more detail at an interview.

Finished? Pause and review. Read it through at least THREE times, cutting out any repetition or anything you think is not strictly relevant. And, if you can, get somebody you trust to read it too. That independent view is important in spotting any errors and making suggestions for changes.

The good news is that if you contact employability experts Ingeus to support your job search, you’ll get all the help you need in writing a covering letter AND your CV.