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How to Write a Cover Letter

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Yasmin Jaff, Active Labour, Erbil

When you want to apply for a position in a company, there are a number of things that you have to keep in mind. As with all types of messages, always put yourself in the position of the reader.

  • “What would you like to know about an applicant?”
  • “What qualities or qualifications do you have that an employer might be interested in?”
  • “What would you be looking for in a candidate?”

There are two types of application letters; the solicited one, and the unsolicited one.

A solicited application letter is one for positions that have been advertised. An unsolicited letter comes from people who are looking for a job and write to a number of companies, stating who they are, what they can do, and asking if there is or soon will be a vacancy for a particular type of job. Letters in which you apply for a trainee position are of course usually unsolicited.

For both solicited and unsolicited letters, it would be wise to find out more information about the company. It always makes a favorable impression on companies if you have apparently taken the trouble to be informed. It shows that you are proactive and want to be prepared.

A good cover letter serves to interpret the information given in a curriculum vitae (CV). Do not repeat yourself. Use the information in the C.V. to show clearly why you are interested in that line of business, and why you are a good (or even the best) candidate for the job.

A solicited cover letter should always refer to the advertisement announcing the vacancy. Mention the source of the advert (with date of publication). Give some details about your personality, and do not forget to state why you would be interested in working for that particular company. Try to “prove” this preference, by showing that you have always been interested in that line of business. Do not overdo it, though, and do not be insincere. Your hobbies, or “interests”, or “activities”, (mentioned in the C.V.) should, in such a case, reflect this interest. At the very least, show enthusiasm.

Don’t be too modest and don’t brag either. You need a balance. If you feel that you have certain qualities, by all means, mention them as such, but avoid using phrases like: “I am an excellent communicator” Instead, prove you communicative skills by referring to activities and achievements in that field.

Gear your letter to the requirements mentioned in the advert. Show that you are what they are looking for, and don’t stress over writing a perfect cover letter because such a thing does not exist: What one personnel manager will find attractive will be found unattractive by another.

This is also determined by the type of business. For instance, if you apply for a job at an accountant’s office, the letter should be more conservative than if you apply for a position in an advertising agency.

One advantage of the unsolicited letter over a solicited one, is that there is less competition, where dozens of other candidates may be reacting to the advert. A disadvantage, of course, is that the company you are writing to may have no vacancies. Also, with an unsolicited letter it is more difficult to attract positive attention to your letter.

There are several ways of attracting attention in the opening paragraph. One of them is to mention the name of a well-respected person in the company, if you know such a person.

Another way (although a bit worn nowadays) is to start with a question or statement that might raise the readers curiosity. The question should refer to a need or a problem that you think the reader might have. For instance, many companies struggle with a shortage of people who devote themselves completely to a specific task.

The people with a permanent job are so busy running day-to-day affairs that little time is left for such tasks. A trainee, could perform such tasks. Always try to stress the mutual benefit of hiring you.

Do not forget to mention the fact that you are applying for a post. You can do that in the first or second paragraph, or in the subject line, which comes after the salutation.

As with solicited cover letters, try to show the reader why you are applying at that particular type of company. Your motivation and enthusiasm should be obvious. That is the reason why you cannot do with just one letter that you send out to lots of companies: some parts should be customized.

End with the request for an invitation to further discuss your qualifications in an interview. State clearly when and where you can be reached. Do not end phrases like “Thank you in advance”, rather end your phrase with “I look forward to hearing from you”.

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