Getting it covered

Increase your chance of success with a good covering letter, says Ben Reeves. Ben Reeves is graduate recruitment manager at Hammond Suddards. The key to getting your traineeship application noticed is a good covering letter. The golden rule when preparing your application is to consider the person reading it. Recruitment staff spend many hours reading through hundreds of applications so anything you do to make their job easier can only increase your chances of success. A few simple points of preparation and presentation can have a dramatic effect on the impact your application has on a potential employer.

The covering letter is the first item the recruiter will see, so make sure it makes a good impression. Always use good quality paper for your covering letter and your CV – an alarming number of candidates rip a page out of an exercise book, bash down a few sentences and think that this will be sufficient.

When writing your covering letter you should ensure that, where possible, it is addressed to the individual responsible for recruitment. This immediately gives the reader the impression you are writing specifically to them rather than providing them with the same standard letter you have attached to numerous other applications.

You should put a clear heading on the covering letter which explains the position you are applying for, such as a 1999 training contract, summer vacation work or pupillage. A heading is a great help to the reader in focusing his or her attention on the position you are applying for. Recruiters get frustrated when they have to read through several paragraphs of covering letter trying to establish if the applicant is applying for a job in the post room, a summer placement – or a partnership.

The text of the letter should be brief and to the point and certainly no more than one page long. A recruiter does not have time to read a 1,000-word essay which rambles on for several pages and repeats the facts already summarised in your CV. In most cases, you should restrict the text of your letter to the main reason for your application and any important points to which you wish to draw attention.

In most cases employers do not mind whether the covering letter is handwritten, typed or word-processed. However, a few employers insist on receiving a handwritten letter, so if this is requested, make sure you comply.

Also, make sure you finish your letter with the appropriate phrase – “yours faithfully” if you have used “Dear Sir or Madam”, or “yours sincerely” if you have addressed the individual by name.

Finally, always sign the letter and print or type your full name. You would be surprised how many candidates do not sign their letters or sign them with an illegible squiggle with no indication of their name.