Grab Attention with Your CV Covering Letter

[Written by Impti Du Toit (Cape Argus Workplace)]

When sending in an application for a job, don’t make the mistake of thinking a covering letter is not important, says a professional CV writer and job hunting coach Gerard le Roux, founder of the Job Search Clinic. “It sets the tone for your CV, introduces it, and can determine whether the reader proceeds in a positive or negative frame of mind – so it’s a valuable opportunity to influence things to your advantage.”

It is a non-negotiable rule always to write a covering letter, he says. “This should include sufficient detail to make the reader want to read on. However, don’t make the letter too long, as a busy recruiter will usually just glance over it. As you have limited time to make an impact, don’t go into long explanations, no matter how important you feel the information may be. Don’t make the reader have to think,” he advises.

Le Roux says there several rules to follow in writing a covering letter. “An important one is always to personalise it. Direct it to a specific person, using their name.”

Do your homework to find out the correct name and title of the person to whom your CV should be sent, and be sure to spell their name correctly, he says. “Addressing your letter ‘To whom it may concern’ gives the recipient license just to ignore it, whereas addressing it a particular person adds a degree of accountability for that reader. It also tells the reader that you take the time and trouble to be thorough and professional.”

Focus your job hunt on a certain job, role or function, he says. “Be specific. Don’t ask for ‘any job’, ‘anywhere’: this is a weak marketing approach. If you target the job you want, you will win more interest from recruiters and employers.”

Identify why you think you are suited for that role, and include just two or three reasons in your covering letter. “Also briefly outline your career highlights: summarise these in just a few lines that show that you’re a competent, skilled person with a great attitude. Also state your intentions: show the potential employer what you can do for his company.”

Include a few of your great accomplishments, he suggests. “Whatever you mention should be focused on elements of your experience and achievements that will demonstrate that you have the relevant abilities to meet the needs of the employer.”

If you have a unique angle to your experience, you should mention it, he says. You might, for example, be a Springbok swimmer; have climbed Kilimanjaro; raised R50 000 for Cancer Awareness Week; spent a week as an intern with a multinational organisation; or self-funded your studies by working as a waiter. “Mentioning unique aspects to your experience may help to differentiate you, especially if you explain in your CV how your experience has helped you develop skills that will be useful to a potential employer.”

In addition, state your availability for interviews and where you can be reached, he says.

Le Roux has provided an example of how these rules can be applied in a real-life situation. A sample ad that you would like to respond to might read:

Assistant Accountant
R7500 pm
Successful printing co based in n/subs requires your 2 yrs exp in an accounting role. Books to trial balance and supervising accounts dept. required. Qualified person who can work independently and to deadlines. Send CV to Angie Stevens, angie@printco.co.za

The covering letter with your application could read:

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“Dear Ms Stevens

Re: Position of Assistant Accountant, printing company (advertised in Cape Argus Workplace, March 21)

Motivated, skilled Accountant

Your requirement is for a qualified person with 2 years’ experience. My profile matches your needs closely. And I’m confident that my skills will contribute strongly to an efficient, up-to-date, trouble-free Accounting function.

  • BComm Accounting, University of Pretoria, achieving distinctions in Financial and Management Accounting.

  • Courses completed in Tax and Cost Accounting for the Manufacturing environment.

  • Two years’ experience gained while studying – as Assistant to a Chartered Accountant at PSN Manufacturing, producing books of account for 2 companies.

In addition to my training and experience I have a testimonial from my previous employer:

“Joe is a quick learner and proved to be especially valuable with the implementation of our new computerised Accounting system, Pastel. He also played a key role in bringing a sister company’s books up to date after a backlog of 12 months. He has my full recommendation.” – Angus Marx CA (SA), Financial Director, PSN Manufacturing.

I am available for interviews at your convenience. Please contact me on 083 123 4567.”

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Le Roux says that if submitting your CV via e-mail you should not attach a separate cover letter, which may be ignored. “Instead use the e-mail body to write your covering letter. Make the letter concise and to the point. Use bullet points for easy reading of the main facts.

“When sending an e-mail, also make your signature look professional. Don’t end off with your first name only: include your surname, give yourself a title – such as Accountant – and provide your qualifications, as well as contact details such as a cell number and e-mail address,” he says.

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