CVs: How to write a compelling covering letter

Despite the fact that many applications are carried out using automated procedures online, it may be surprising that covering letters still have an important role to play when applying for jobs. CV Writers carried out a survey recently amongst HR and recruitment professionals that showed a startling divergence in opinions on the usefulness of covering letters.

Whilst two thirds of recruiters will read a CV regardless of the letter, a third will only read a CV if the covering letter impresses first. Clearly then you cannot take any chances, and a compelling covering letter continues to be a vital component of a job seekers application.

Here are our top tips to make sure your covering letter works effectively.

  1. Don’t repeat information from your CV

Too often we see information from a CV literally cut and pasted straight into a covering letter. This does recruiters a disservice and will frustrate the reader when they see the same information repeated verbatim. It can come across as lethargic, and that’s not perhaps the best first impression to make.

  1. Put all the important technical/skills information in the CV

The other key finding in our research was that over 40% of initial readers (usually HR) only ‘sometimes’ or ‘never’ pass the covering letter on to the recruiting manager. So there is no point in putting critical information about your application in the letter as there is a strong chance that the recruiting manager won’t even get to read it. 

  1. Keep the covering letter brief

Three to four short paragraphs should do it. Structured properly the first paragraph should confirm who you are and the job applied for. The second paragraph should provide a compelling summary of why you should be considered for the role – especially any key technical skills or similar projects completed that are especially relevant to the job in hand. Any further paragraphs should contain any specific information - such as willingness to relocate – that may affect your application. Lastly, have a clear call to action. 

  1. The call to action

The call to action for a covering letter is to get the recruiter to read your CV. Any decision regarding calling you to interview will only be made after reading your CV. So, whilst there is no harm in saying ‘I’ll call you next week to ascertain your interest’, this won’t in any way effect the decision on whether to interview you. What you do want the reader to do, however, is to read your CV closely.

  1. Be positive

Don’t give the reader any cause for uncertainty in your letter. Anything that can possibly hinder your application is best left to interview stage. Once they’ve met and decided they like you, you’d be surprised how perceived obstacles tend to melt away.

  1. CV and covering letter: Two parts of one unit

Your covering letter and CV should entirely complement each other. Presentation is everything so try to use the same formatting, typeface and point size for each.  There should be a logical flow of information between them and together they should make a convincing case for you.

Follow these guidelines and you can be confident any recruiter will be pouring over your CV and giving your application serious consideration.

ContractorUK has partnered with the UK's leading authority on Contractor CVs to provide a FREE review of your CV and LinkedIn profile. Contact The CV & Interview Advisors and one of their team will get back to you to discuss if your CV and LinkedIn profile matches up with industry best practice.

Wednesday 12th Oct 2011