Do your research
Before you sit down to write your letter do some research on the company and into the role to which you are applying. The easiest way to do this is on the Internet. Be sure you know exactly what the company does and how they are placed amongst their competitors.
Try to gauge what the company’s business plan is. For example if they have spent a lot of money on a flashy website they could be hoping to expand more into online sales. As accurately as you can try to, know exactly what will be expected of you should you get the job. For example what are the duties of a marketing manager and what qualities they should posses?
Carrying out research shows to the employer that you have initiative and that you are genuinely interested in the company, it will also allow you to use style and terminology that is appropriate to the audience. For example the company may be relaxed or very formal, new or established, rapidly expanding or in the doldrums.
Addressing your letter
Ideally, you should be addressing your letter to a specific person, i.e. their name rather than just “Human Resources Manager” etc. To do that, you might need to call the company and have a chat with them. Not only does this give you an opportunity to find out the necessary information, it shows initiative and gives you a chance to build rapport.You should also address the person as:
- Dear Mr Smith or Mrs Smith – If you know the name of the person to whom you are writing
- Dear Ms Smith – If you are not sure of the marital status of the female recipient
- Dear Sir/Madam – If you are in totally in the dark as to the name of the recipient
Structure - What to write
- First Paragraph –The opening paragraph should be short and hard-hitting. Begin with an arresting sentence in which you explain why it is you are writing, for example ‘I would like to be considered for the position of Marketing Manager’.
- Second Paragraph –Why should an employer be interested in hiring you? Briefly describe your professional and academic qualifications that are relevant to the position. If the job was advertised refer to all of the required skills written therein.
- Third Paragraph –Emphasise what you can do for the company, not vice versa. Outline a relevant career goal, for example if you are applying for Sales positions do not say that you are training to be an airline pilot. Incorporate your research. Expand on the most relevant points of your CV
- Fourth Paragraph –Request actions, for example indicate your desire for a personal interview and that you’re able to meet with the employer at their convenience.
- Closing Paragraph – Sign off your covering letter ‘Yours sincerely’ then do not forget to sign it. Write an enclosure line at the bottom.
Points to note
- Avoid sounding pompous or using clichés and catch phrases.
- Try to avoid using ‘I’ too much.
- Do not use abbreviations.
- Do not exceed four paragraphs of content.
- To satisfy the skim reader, incorporate some industry sound bites and buzzwords.
- Check and then recheck your spelling, grammar and punctuation.
- If you are making a speculative application you should follow up the letter with a phone
- call, e-mail or office visit.
- Attach your covering letter to your CV, one should never be sent out without the other.
This part is similar to a covering letter. Explain why you’re interested and why you think you are the right person for the job. Do your research into what the company is doing at the moment and hence the kind of people they need.
Competency based questions
These are the types of questions where an employer will ask you to provide an example where you have demonstrated a particular skill/ability in the past and which proves your capability in this area.
An example of such a question would be:
Give an example of when you have worked within a successful team. Why was the team successful? What was your contribution to the team achieving its goal? (300 words max)
Example answer: During my university project management modules I was required to work as a part of a team. This often involved cooperation with a wide range of different people with diverse personalities. I believe the teams I was involved with were successful because tasks were allocated with much consideration to individual abilities and talents. By paying attention to each team member’s strengths, we were able to achieve excellent results. My specific contribution in most cases was carrying out research and acquiring technical information, which is one of my strengths.
Note that a real life situation is given, with particular attention to the candidate’s individual contribution. A good point to remember here is that the example itself is not important – it can be from any area of your life, whether it is work, education or leisure time. As long as it demonstrates your use of that skill, it is acceptable.
Approaching awkward questions
A good way to approach some of these awkward questions is to make sure that you focus on what you want out of a new role. Here are some examples:
Why did you leave your last job? Even if you were bored out of your brain, hated the boss or were miserable in your previous job- don’t put that in! This sounds very negative and could cost you an interview. Instead, think about what skills weren’t utilised at that workplace and consider what you are looking for in a new job, such as wanting more responsibility, a new challenge, or better prospects.
What do you want to get paid and what was your last salary? Unfortunately many employers ask this question and it may be to try and get the best employee for the lowest price. The best answer here is an honest one, although many people put higher than reality to ensure they don’t get a pay cut. But be fair to yourself: decide what salary you can reasonably live on, and stick to it.
Why do you want this job? This may seem like a daunting question, but it is an opportunity to write about experience you have, your relevant skills and parts of the role which appeal to you. Don’t put “I’ve always wanted to be a … since I was a child”. This is a cliché which every employer has heard before.
Length of answers
Keep it sharp: it is important to fill the boxes with as much relevant information as possible, but try not to waffle. Tips to remember:
- Highlight your skills: Remember to focus on skills and use active words, such as achieved, collaborated, enabled and negotiated.
- User friendly: Use bullet points and spacing correctly to improve readability.
- Don’t copy and paste: Make sure to write each answer fresh each time no matter how similar it appears to a question on another form.
- Tests: An application form is often combined with a test such as psychometric tests, personality tests and multiple choice questions that apply to the workplace, so be prepared.
- Skill scan: Because application forms are online, they can easily be searched for key points the employer is looking for, so make sure to mirror the language and cover every skill they ask for.
- Keep a copy: Make sure to keep a copy of your application so if you do get an interview you’ll know what you wrote – you may need to refer to it at the interview.
Wait! Don’t be too hasty in sending off the form. Before submitting it, there are a few last minute checks to carry out before you send:
- Always spell check: Many forms don’t let you go back to make corrections, so ensure to do this before you move onto the next question.
- Follow their rules: If the instructions say include a CV as well, then do; if not, then don’t. The same with a cover letter. If you do it incorrectly, it will count against you.
- Attachments: Ensure documents are attached to emails
- No blanks: Never leave a box empty, this looks sloppy and lazy. If it isn’t appropriate for you, then put ‘not applicable’.
- Remember to also check your online presence i.e. LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and any other blogs or comments you may have written. Either set your privacy settings so no one can find/see them or edit them so they don’t compromise your integrity.