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Five reasons your cover letter is letting you down

Closeup of relaxed young beautiful young business womanMost employers will spend less than a minute scanning your cover letter -so should you still bother putting effort into writing one?

‘While some recruiters don’t read covering letters, preferring to go straight to a candidate’s CV instead, there are plenty that do,’ says John Lees, career coach and author of Just the Job!

‘A good covering letter helps building a picture of you as a strong candidate, while an exceptional one can land you in the ‘to interview’ pile, even if your CV isn’t as impressive as others in their inbox.’

1. You didn’t target it to the company

Have you shown the employer that you are genuinely interested in working for them? A cover letter is the perfect opportunity to demonstrate that you’ve researched the company and are passionate and knowledgeable about the industry as a whole.
‘Scour the company website and brochures, read industry publications and search online for information -has the company made any major acquisitions, closed departments, won new clients, offered new services or expanded abroad recently?’ asks John.
‘Make it clear how your skills and experience can add value to the company and/or help them meet the challenges facing the wider industry in future.’

2. You don’t stand out from the crowd 

You spend time tweaking your CV – demonstrating that you meet the requirements listed in the job ad – so why undo all your hard work by sending a bog-standard letter with it?

‘A covering letter should state the job you’re applying for and where you saw it advertised, but it needs to do more than just direct the recruiter’s attention to your CV,’ warns John.

‘Offer three or four clear reasons why the employer should want to meet you, carefully cross-referenced to the employer’s shopping list. The aim is to make them want to meet you -so if you’ve done something fascinating or achieved something impressive, highlight it in your covering letter.’

3. You’ve written an essay

While you want to let your personality show through, that doesn’t mean sharing your entire life story. Too much text on the page looks daunting, so be concise.

‘Simplify and shorten wherever possible,’ advises John. ‘Look at your covering letter and make it as brief and direct as the task allows. If you’re instructed to write a three-page covering letter, fine, but otherwise a short one-pager is best.

‘If a longer letter is specifically required, write short paragraphs rather than bullet points, perhaps using paragraph headings to highlight the key facts.’

4. It doesn’t add value

A cover letter shouldn’t just repeat the same words and phrases on your CV. Use it to add value -to highlight your best achievements or provide further details where required.

John says: ‘HR professionals are trained at reading between the lines. If you have anything unclear or questionable on your CV, such as a gap in employment or change in career paths, they’re going to want to know why.

‘Use your covering letter to make things clear, and it could save your application from getting thrown out at the first stage.’

5. You sent it to the wrong person

Employers are swamped with job applications (each graduate job advertised receives 85 applications on average), so will be looking for easy ways to filter out candidates. Don’t let a silly mistake give them a reason to throw you on the ‘reject’ pile.

John says: ‘Double check the name and job title of the person you are writing to. Never leave this as general “Dear Sir or Madam” – ring up to find out if necessary.

‘If you are writing to a company for a job when they have not advertised a vacancy, address your letter to the manager of the specific department to which you are applying. Again, find out the name of the person by visiting the company’s website, looking on LinkedIn or calling the company and asking for the name of the head of department to which you are applying.

‘Make sure that the recipient’s name, department and address details on the envelope are the same as at the top of the letter – and double check spellings. People can be sensitive about their name – yet you’d be surprised how many candidates get these things wrong.

Image: © GVS –

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