The cover letter

The second key component of your file is the cover letter. Whether you send it by mail or by e-mail, your cover letter should be attached to your Curriculum Vitae and should follow certain rules.

A cover letter should showcase your CV.  It represents a link between your work record (the past) and the job you are seeking (the future). It must demonstrate what interests you about the job for which you are applying. You must show the recruiter that you can be counted on to perform the tasks associated with the job you are seeking. If you succeed, there's a good chance that the recruiter will want to meet you and you will get an interview!

A cover letter is addressed to a single individual with a view to landing a job in a specific company.  This is true even when you are responding to an ad published by a placement agency.

 

The basics of the cover letter

Ideally, never begin a cover letter with Dear Sir/Madam. Do whatever it takes to find the name of the person who will be interested in the services you offer (department head, department manager, HR manager, etc.). If you succeed, there is a good chance that the recruiter will want to meet you and you will get an interview! That is why it is so important to polish your cover letter.

  • If you are responding to an ad, write in the same language as the ad. For a speculative application, write in the language spoken in the region in which you would like to work.

  • The cover letter should not exceed one page (4 paragraphs).

  • By way of a title, use the subject line to indicate the title of the job that you would like or the role that you would like to fill.

  • Address your letter to the person whose name is mentioned in the ad. If you are making a speculative application, do some research to find the name of the manager of the department that interests you or send your letter to the HR department.

  • Show the recruiter your motivations for applying to this company.

  • Highlight your strengths.

  • Use positive vocabulary and active verbs

  •  (I did, made, carried out, accomplished, realized, sold, initiated, created, supervised, etc.).

  • Use the present tense or past simple tense, particularly when you are listing your successes or describing your results.

  • The text must be clear, legible and coherent. Use short sentences and make your point. Avoid stock expressions that are overused.

  • Write a different letter for every position you are seeking.  "Mass-produced" or “standard” letters are easy to recognize.

  • Re-read or have someone else check over your letter to avoid any spelling and syntax errors.

  • The layout should be simple and airy (view the sample).

  • The cover letter should be typed unless the company requires a handwritten letter, in which case it will be stipulated in the ad.

Style of the cover letter

What style works best to catch the recruiter's eye?

Be dynamic, clear and direct, and observe the following guidelines:

  • Watch out for abbreviations and jargon that are only familiar to specialists and not necessarily the person who will open your letter. It's best to avoid abbreviations and to write any acronyms in full unless the term happens to be used in the ad.

  • If writing in a non-English language, it is better to avoid anglicisms unless they are common in your field (banking, information technology, etc.).

  • Avoid repetition.

Structure of the cover letter

A well-structured letter will allow your recruiter to get his/her bearings quickly. The most common format is a three-part letter that is sub-divided as follows:
You – Me – Us.

You =   The company to whom you are sending your letter and what it is about the company that interests you.

Me =    My professional experience and skills that I can bring to this company.

Us =     What the company and I can accomplish together. Show that you are the person who is best able to meet the company's needs.

This format can be used when responding to an ad or making a speculative application.
 

Manpower’s tip: If you are addressing a placement agency and don't know the name of the actual employer, keep it simple. At the beginning of your letter, you can mention what it was about the ad that attracted you. Describe your skills, your knowledge of the job and of the field. Show your interest in your profession and the knowledge that you have acquired through your past experience. In other words, explain what it is that you will bring to the company.

You – Me – Us

You

The 1st paragraph refers to the company to whom you are writing or for whom you would like to work. It allows you to show that you are truly interested in collaborating with this company (and not some other). Your introduction should hook your reader. You must research the company (its history, markets, competitors etc.) in order to back up your argument. However, keep your tone neutral and avoid being too laudatory or pompous.

Me

In the second paragraph of your letter, you should talk about yourself and your professional experience, accomplishments and successes related to the position you are seeking. Describe your responsibilities, select your relevant accomplishments and describe the tasks performed in your previous jobs.
Don't hesitate to use words or expressions from the list of qualifications used in the ad, or to use synonyms for these terms.

Us

Present your medium-term objectives and the projects that you could complete in this position that would help the business grow. In other words, visualize yourself in the job and imagine what you could contribute to the company.

Greetings

Indicate that you are available for a meeting at their earliest convenience and close with a greeting.

Content of the cover letter

  • Put your full contact details at the top left-hand side:
    First name and surname
    Address
    Postal code/town
    Telephone no. (pay attention to the recorded message on your answering machine!)
    E-mail address (use a professional-looking address such as firstname.name@e-mail server)

  • Put below the contact details of the company to whom you are sending your file.

  • Put the date on your letter.

  • In the subject line

  • if you are answering an ad, give:
    the ad's reference number + the job title + full time or part time work + the location

  • if you are making a spontaneous application, provide:
    job inquiry "title of position or role sought" in area/department xxx.

Presentation of the cover letter

  • Pay attention to the layout (margins, balanced paragraphs).

  • Align your text to the left.

  • Choose a font such as "Arial" or "Verdana" and make sure the size is between 10 and 12 points.

  • Avoid fonts that are too fancy or hard to read.

  • Keep the paragraphs short.

  • Keep in mind that an airy text is a lot more pleasant to read.

  • If you are printing certain titles or passages in color, try to keep these as sober as possible and avoid multiple colors on the same page (maximum 2).

  • It is useless to underline a word or parts of sentences in your letter or to put them in bold. The reader is old enough to discern what is important or not.

Your cover letter in 10 key points

Structure and layout of the cover letter

  • Address. Put your contact information including your phone number and email address at the top right-hand side and the company’s address on the top left-hand side.

  • Title. If you are replying to an ad, indicate in the subject line the title and the reference number of the position you are interested in. Write Employment enquiry followed by the role that interests you if you are sending a speculative application.

  • Structure. You – me – us. Create distinct paragraphs for each. A golden rule in written communication is to express only one idea per sentence in order to ensure maximum clarity. Use present and present perfect verb tenses, particularly when describing your accomplishments and/or the results you achieved.

  • Length. Your letter should fit in an A4 page.

  • Sobriety and space. Harmonize the style and layout of your letter. Refrain from using unusual styles or effects and choose a sober font.

  • Signature. Don’t forget to sign your letter by hand

Content of the cover letter

  • Motivation. Explain why you are interested in this position and in this company in particular. Try to link your qualifications and your accomplishments with the profile the company is seeking. Highlight your strengths and the benefits you could bring to the company, particularly in the position you are applying for. You can also mention a reason why you wish to get a new job.

  • Impact. Use a positive vocabulary and action words that will help you come across as a driven, dynamic and serious candidate. Stay away from negations and negative constructions whenever possible. Avoid using abbreviations.

  • Availability. Your letter should show your availability for a face-to-face interview. If you have had an earlier phone conversation with a human resources representative, mention it in your cover letter with the date and the name of the person.

  • Zero mistakes. Correct any grammar or spelling mistakes. Use your word-processor’s spell check. Proofread your letter and have somebody proofread it for you.

 

Your cover letter is now ready. Send us your application