About to write a Covering Letter? Read this first!

How do you make your skills stand out in a covering letter (CL)? (N.B. These tips also apply to ‘statements’ which are often required in online applications.) Since a CL is only one page long, you can’t use it to detail all of your experience. Furthermore, that’s not what employers are looking for. While your CV can be used to list most, if not all, of your valuable experience, in a CL you’re really looking to draw on just a handful of examples that you deem to be most relevant to the job you’re applying for.

The issue of relevance is very important. You should read the job specifications carefully before writing your CL (and, incidentally, it’s important that you make some effort to rewrite your CL for every job you apply for – employers can spot a ‘boilerplate’ CL that hasn’t been tailored to their job profile a mile off, and may well reject your application out of hand as a result). Think about how your experience matches what they’re looking for. You should start with the skills which then lead you to the experiences, not the other way around. For instance, if the job profile places a high emphasis on communication skills, problem-solving and teamwork, you should make these core skills the basis of your CL. This makes things much clearer to the person reading your CL than simply running through your work experience, with a few references to the skills thrown in as an afterthought.

Let’s say you were to begin with communication skills. You could start with something along the lines of ‘I have excellent communication skills, as demonstrated by…’ and then give one or two examples of experiences where you have used your communication skills. Don’t let that be enough though. You should also provide some concrete evidence of your skills, for example, if you’ve worked as a barista in a coffee shop, you could say how many customers you had to deal with on a daily basis, the types of things you had to talk to them about, or the types of questions they asked you. How did you communicate with these customers? How did you deal with their problems? This detail is what makes the difference between a candidate with a provable track record and one who looks like he or she is simply repeating what’s been stated in the job profile. ‘I have excellent communication skills’ or even ‘I have excellent communication skills, as shown by my experience working in a coffee shop’ is simply not enough to impress your prospective employer.

Having said all this, a CL can only be so long, and if the job profile has mentioned quite a few skills, you don’t have to refer to all of them in your CL. Target the ones you think are the most important, and the rest you can highlight in your CV.

Once again, if you’re unsure about your CL, you can book an appointment with the Careers & Enterprise Centre. We’d be very happy to help you!


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