There are in essence two types of CV cover letter, and I use the term CV cover letter, even though it is fairly rare that job seekers actually send letters and CVs in the post anymore, to encompass all those forms of communication that accompany and, crucially, support your CV/application.

The first CV cover letter accompanies a speculative application; i.e. a job seeker sending in a CV to a company in the hope they might be hiring and it might be of interest. The second type of CV cover letter accompanies a specific application to a known live vacancy; e.g. it’s been viewed on the company’s careers webpage or is being advertised in an industry magazine etc.

Here’s some advice to help you with both types of CV cover letter:

The Speculative Approach

This type of CV cover letter should begin with an explanation of why you are writing to them and it’s got to hit the recipient right between the eyes in the first paragraph. A good tip is to fold the letter in half (mentally do so if it’s an email) and see if the top half really is straight to the point and engaging. If you can’t quickly get them hooked then it’s unlikely they will continue reading to the bottom half.

It’s therefore essential that if you are in the mood to send speculative applications that you take a targeted approach and not “spray-and-pray” your CV to a number of companies at once. Something too generic designed to appeal to a mass audience will quickly turn people off. Find an angle unique to them or their business.

Examples of engaging opening paragraphs could be:

“I was interested to read on your company news page that you have expanded into x sector and I wanted to highlight my skills and experience in this sector to you as I’m currently seeking a new position”

“I understand from speaking to networking contacts I have in your industry that your company is a great employer and an excellent place to work. I think my skills and experience might fit in well given my industry background and I wanted to enquire if you currently have any plans to recruit at my level?”

Once you have the reader engaged you then need to push on with a short summary of your skills and experience. This needs to be no longer than one paragraph. The cover letter is to support the CV and not duplicate it.

End on a positive note. Thank them for their time and suggest ways in which the contact could be moved forward; e.g. I’m flexible on dates or it would be great to get together for coffee and discuss further etc.

The Specific Approach

Many of the rules above also apply when writing a CV covering letter to accompany an application to a specific job vacancy. In the first paragraph you need to be explicit as to which vacancy you are applying to and where you have seen the advertisement.

The second paragraph is where you really need to spend your time thinking and crafting what you want to say. It’s really important that in this section you tease out the main selection criteria the hiring company is saying they are looking for in the advert and then demonstrate how, when and where you meet this criteria. Again, the CV cover letter needs to support your CV and not eclipse it.

As above, end the letter on a positive note; e.g. I would be delighted to be given the opportunity to explore this further, hope to hear from you soon etc

And final note: spell check it, read it, read it again and then get someone else to read it just to make sure there are no spelling or grammar clangers in there that will make you fall at the first hurdle. And of course don’t forget to follow it up with further communication; persistence is vital if you are to move the relationship on.

Photo credit: cartoon by Nick. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.