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How to get a job

Writing a covering letter

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The covering letter is likely to be your first contact with a potential employer, and for this reason it's vital that you make the right first impression. A poorly written covering letter will instantly put off the person reading it, and if they bother to read your CV, it will have to work hard to make up for the covering letter.

So what should your covering letter say that will grab the attention of a potential employer, and make them want to read your CV? In the activity below, you will assume the role of a human resources professional, and decide - on the strength of a covering letter - which candidate's CV you would read.

Activity: The good, the bad and the ugly - 10 minutes

The three letters below are job application covering letters written by people applying for the position of medical secretary at a local hospital. Read each of the letters, and then answer the questions below.

Letter 1

Dear Sir/Madam,

I've enclosed my CV for the job I saw advertised as a medical secretary It looks v. interesting and even though I haven't been a medical secretary before I think I'd be good at it. I look forward to hearing from you.

Cheers,

Rachel

Letter 2

Dear Mrs Blyth,

I am writing in response to the job for a medical secretary, which I have seen advertised on the Jobs For Ex-Prime Minister's website . Having worked as a medical secretary for many years, I have a thorough and precise approach to my work, and can communicate effectively. I am enthusiastic, motivated and a diligent worker, and I could make a positive contribution to your department.

Cheers,

Rachel

Letter 3

Dear Mrs Blyth,

I recently saw a post advertised for a role as a medical secretary in your department. I believe that I have the required experience and expertise to fulfil the position.

I have worked as a medical secretary for fifteen years, firstly in London, where I worked at a GP surgery. After a few years I moved to work for a hospital in Leeds where I moved departments quite a lot.

I went to secretarial college in London before I started work and I have also done an evening class in medical terminology. I have done a number of other courses at college in the evening too. These courses were beginners Spanish, intermediate Spanish, Fencing, woodwork and beginners Arabic. I also recently wrote a novel, which I hope to get published.

I have traveled extensively and enjoy socialising. I have four children, but I was recently divorced. I am, therefore, a well-rounded individual who could become an enthusiastic member of a team.

I am a very diligent worker, and am able to work fast and efficiently and get the job done.

Kind regards,

Cheryl Booth

  • what were your first impressions of each letter?
  • were all the letters well written, or were there spelling and grammatical errors?
  • which covering letter(s) contained irrelevant information?
  • which covering letter(s) was/were repeating information that should be in the CV?
  • which CV did you want to go on and read?

When you've read the letters and thought about the questions above, create a short check-list of the things you should, and shouldn't include in a covering letter. Use your check-list when you're writing covering letters.

Recommended Further Reading

It's important to keep your covering letter as succinct as possible, and not repeat the information in your CV. Your covering letter should explain which job you are applying for, give a very brief outline of why you're suitable for the job, and mention that you've attached your CV. Your aim is to whet their appetite for your CV.

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