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Writing Cover Notes: The Five Golden Rules

by Mark Ellwood

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So, you’re submitting your CV to a recruiter or a new job. But what do you put on the email?  While, to many, this may feel like a minor consideration, it’s in fact one of the most important things to consider when applying for a job. Your cover note is the first impression, the packaging on the product. Of course, there are many online guides to creating cover notes, some tailored to specific sectors – these are worth reading. Rather than providing detailed, sector-specific advice here, what we offer are the five golden principles that should apply to all cover notes:

 

1. Make sure your CV is up to date

We can’t emphasise this enough. If your CV doesn’t convey your experience, a well crafted cover note is useless. Spend your time making sure your CV is as good as it can be first (and we’ll be uploading some further guides and advice on CV crafting later). It’s fair to say that the best cover notes are let down by an outdated or badly structured CV

 

2. Make it minimal for recruiters

When you send a CV to a recruiter for the first time, you’ll usually be applying via a website or a job board. The recruiter is unlikely to read your cover note and will instead go straight to opening the CV to assess the match to their job roles, making a cover note irrelevant. In fact, in some cases the cover note can actually be detrimental to your chances. Long, rambling cover notes can put the recruiter off.  If you have to create a wall of text describing your suitability for the role, the chances are that your CV doesn’t match it – see rule #1.  It also begs the question: Should you be applying for this role? However, sometimes a small intro is a nice opener – so keep is brief.  Single paragraph, around 200 words (roughly the length of this paragraph), briefly stating your interest and the reasons for that interest. When applying to a potential employer directly, this is a different process and depends on the system the firm is using – it could be an open application where you submit a cover note, or an application form to complete online

 

3. Don’t bulk email

It’s tempting to send your CV on a group email to save time, but this immediately reduces your chances of being considered as it appears lazy or even desperate. What’s more, it’s obvious that you’ve not tailored your approach or application to each employer/recruiter or job vacancy, which shows lack of attention to detail. It also suggests you’re signing up with a large number of recruiters, which will reduce their interest. A new job is worth taking a bit more time over. Address cover notes to a specific individual and for a specific role, with a brief explanation of why you are suited to that role. Never use ‘Dear all, excuse the bulk email

 

4. Spell check, then spell check again

Not just with the auto spell-checker either. Read it once, read it three times. Get a friend to read it and check for consistency – are you using US or UK English consistently?  Are you writing single digit numbers consistently (1 or ‘one’)? This is especially important for roles where strong spelling and grammar skills are high on the checklist

 

5. Make sense

On several occasions, we’ve had CVs with a cover note that says ‘I’m sure I would be a great addition to your company’. This is a common error when you ignore rule #3.  Unless you’re applying to a job we’ve advertised ourselves for our own firm, then we’re not the employer, we’re the recruiter. Another common error is the use of overly complicated language – finding obscure or pretentious ways of describing something to demonstrate a greater grasp of vocabulary. Simpler is usually better. Make sure the words you’ve used convey the intended meaning. If they complicate the ideas or confuse the meaning, don’t use them. You’re after a concise message

 

 

These may seem like minor details.  But while it is true that a well crafted cover note can only stimulate enough interest for the recipient to take a good look at your CV, it's equally true that a poor cover note can sink your game entirely before the CV even gets opened. If it does get opened at all.