Following my earlier 'How to get an Internship - Your CV' article, here's the second instalment of the IOAI guide to getting an internship.
Writing a covering letter can seem like a pretty pointless task. You've spent ages fine-tuning your CV, so surely it doesn't matter how you introduce the application?
A covering letter is a chance for you to emphasise why you are perfect for the position, to show that you've gone that extra mile; and it does so in a far more personal way than a CV. It may be the first impression your potential employer gets of you, so use it wisely; not only to reiterate your relevant skills and knowledge, but to demonstrate the enthusiasm you have for the post.
There are two types of covering letter; the first is the one you write when you are applying for an advertised job, and the second you write as a speculative application. Whichever you're sending, the premise is pretty much the same, except in a speculative covering letter you can afford to write a little more to explain what you're looking for.
Writing a Covering Letter
Let's start with the basics. Layout; when writing a covering letter, layout is crucial as you need to create a professional and accessible document which is easy on the eye.
Use a simple font, such as Ariel or Veranda. Fancy fonts are an unnecessary nuisance and make your letter harder to read and far less professional. If you use Comic Sans, there is a special level of hell waiting just for you.
Spacing is also important; be sure to properly space between the addresses, the heading, the greeting, each paragraph, the closing, and your signature. Left justify your letter, and single space your letter. Be sure to use paragraphs correctly.
As for the tone of your letter, stick to formal and professional. It might be tempting to adopt a more chatty approach but the covering letter is not the place to do it; hopefully you'll have a chance to do that later on in the interview process. Address the letter to the interviewer by name if possible rather than using 'Dear Sir/Madam'.
Parts of a Covering Letter
Your Contact Information: The first thing to include on a written covering letter is your contact information, which I normally right-justify. This info compromises of:
- Your full name
- Your address
- Your postcode
- Your phone number and email address (though personally I like to put these at the very end of the letter, after your signature)
When you send an email covering letter, instead of listing your contact information at the top of the message, include your contact information in your signature.
Their Contact Information: Some other guides I've read say that only do this if you have the contact information for the employer; this makes little sense to me, as with just a little research you should have access to an address at the least. Doing that little bit of research can make all the difference, so take those extra five minutes. So, for this section, include a left-justified:
- Company name
- Company address
- Company postcode
The Date: A lot of people seem to forget this addition. Include the date before beginning your letter, as this provides a time frame reference for anyone reviewing your application.
The Greeting: It's important to include an appropriate salutation at the start of of a cover letter.
- If you know the contact's name, it is far preferable to use this than a general greeting. You may be able to find the relevant contact names on the job advertisement, the company website or even by phoning the company and requesting the information - this is all good research, so don't be scared to take the initiative.
- If you still have no luck finding a contact name, don't panic. Sometimes you just can't. In these cases, use 'To whom it may concern' or 'Dear hiring manager' or even 'Dear Sir/Madam'.
The Grab: The opening paragraph of your covering letter should offer a strong introduction, presenting the reader with some immediate and tailored information regarding the position you are applying for and a few core competencies that demonstrate your strength and relevance.
The Hook: Your second paragraph should be linked to your CV, and extrapolate on some key points within it. It shouldn't be a copy of the information in your CV, but rather it is your chance to highlight and define some examples of the work performed and to include results achieved. Use bullet points to define key areas of achievement and highlight what you have brought to previous positions.
The Research: The third paragraph in a covering letter should be a demonstration of why you want to work for this company. It should show what you know about the company, and the element that prompted you to apply (why you're interested, and how this position excites you). This shows the reader that you've taken your time to do your homework on the company, and to understand the company's nature and goals.
The Close: Use the closing paragraph to briefly summarise why you feel you would be well suited to the role, to thank the reader for taking the time to consider your application, and then provide a call to action, such as a request for a meeting or an interview. Alternatively, state that you will call in a certain number of days - but if you do this, make sure you follow up within the specified time.
Signing Off: Most people seem not to know that there are some simple rules for how to end a letter: For formal letters when the name or sex of the recipient is not known, use 'Yours faithfully,'. For formal letters where the name and sex is of the recipients is known, use 'Yours sincerely,'. Simples!
The Signature: After signing off a written letter, leave a space in which to manually write your signature and then type your name in full. On an email covering letter, obviously the only option is to type your name.
As I said in my previous post about CVs, if printing, invest in some high quality paper as it will subliminally have an effect upon the reader. As well as this, be sure to staple your CV and covering letter together as these things have a habit of going walkabouts in a busy working environment.
That's it! Good luck, and if you have any questions relating to this article, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org