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Cover letter tips and tricks

By Amanda McCarthy

Your cover letter should be only one page long. Any longer and you’re giving too much information, taking up too much of a recruiter’s time, and demonstrating that you can’t summarise using a clear, concise writing style.

Keeping it simple
Don’t go over the top with the design of your cover letter. Keep it simple, smart and easy to read - using the same font and style as you use in your resume. Pay attention to the design and choose a style that works well for you. Use plain fonts such as Arial, Times New Roman, Verdana, Tahoma, Century Schoolbook and Garamond - these ooze professionalism. Keep font sizes between 10 and 12 point (depending on the font). Steer clear of using graphics and fancy borders on your cover letter, unless of course you’re interested in design jobs that require more of a creative flair. Left-align your cover letter as well - this style suits current fashion and looks a lot neater.

Spacing is in
No-one likes reading mountains and mountains of straight text. Not only is this hard on the eyes, it’s also a little overwhelming to the reader. Use plenty of white space to give your cover letter a lift, and remember to use blank lines between paragraphs. Leave enough space for margins, too.

Making style count
Your cover letter needs to be inviting to the reader. If you’re sending your cover letter and resume by post, print it out on white or light-coloured paper. Use a laser printer for extra sharpness.

Spellang mistakes - Ooops!
Your cover letter should be error free. Watch out for simple blunders such as ‘role’ being misspelled as ‘roll’ - it drives recruiters crazy. Don’t set off on the wrong foot by not proofreading your work thoroughly. Always take the time to read through your cover letter carefully before you shoot off your application to the employer. Better yet, ask a friend who’s a good speller to proof it for you - sometimes a fresh set of eyes can catch a mistake you’ve overlooked. (Refer to Chapter 7 for more on proofreading).

Using the right language
Be mindful of the language you use in your cover letter. Here are eight don’ts to bear in mind when it comes to language usage in your cover letter:

*Don’t be too pushy. Being too aggressive and overpowering in your cover letter is an instant turn-off. Sure, be assertive, but not intimidating.

*Don’t come across as a desperado. You may have been trying to break into the job market for some time, but don’t come across as desperate and willing to take any job that comes along. Apply for jobs you’re genuinely interested in.

*Don’t use negative statements. Making comments such as ‘Although I don’t have . . .’, ‘Despite being . . .’ and so on does little to instil confidence in your abilities. Instead, put a positive spin on your sentences by using words such as ‘I have . . .’, ‘I can . . .’ or ‘I am able to . . .’.

*Don’t waffle. One of the big bugbears of recruiters is cover letters full of waffle. Don’t beat around the bush, babbling on and on and on - get straight to the point. Write just one page of short, snappy statements. If you have the gift of the gab and can talk the hind legs off a donkey, then edit your cover letter ruthlessly after you’ve written it.

*Don’t overuse the word ‘I’. Add a touch of variety to your cover letter by starting your paragraphs off in different ways.

*Don’t reveal too much. Avoid pouring out your heart to the recruiter, particularly if you’ve experienced bad luck in the past. Keep the sob stories off paper.

*Don’t use too many big words. Don’t go overboard trying to impress the recruiter with your extensive vocabulary. Use simple, straightforward language that every man and his dog will understand. Also, avoid using slang, colloquialisms or company acronyms.

*Don’t be fake. Never ever lie, embellish the truth or pretend to be someone you’re not in your cover letter. Remember, the writing’s on the wall when the referee checks are completed.

Handwriting doesn’t pay
Today’s business world accepts no excuses for handwritten cover letters. Handwriting doesn’t look professional and makes you look old-fashioned. If you don’t have a computer at home, then find one elsewhere. If you’re not up to speed with word processing or don’t have a state-of-the-art computer, pay someone to rustle up a cover letter for you, or perhaps access a PC at your local library.

Focusing on the employer
Too many people mention in a cover letter what they want from the employer, instead of focusing on the employer’s needs. A well-written cover letter convinces the recruiter you have what it takes to do the job. It outlines why the company is special and talks about how you can add value to the company’s business.

Keeping your salary a secret
Don’t mention salary requirements in your cover letter. It may work against you. The interview is the best time to bring up money matters.

Excerpted with permission of the publisherJohn Wiley & Sons Australia, Ltd from Australian Resumes for Dummies, Copyright 2008 by Amanda McCarthy. Avaliable from all good booksellers from RRP $39.95

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Published: 18 April 2008

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