OK, so have you ever been in a situation where you’ve sent your application to a recruiter or employer via email and not heard back. It is very frustrating!
One big reason recruiters and employers might not be responding to your CV or application is because you’re not including a cover email.
But do you know how to write a covering email that creates an impact and prompts the employer to pick up the phone (or at the very least reply to your message)? You’re duty-bound to produce excellent, error-free copy that sells your relevant skills, qualities and achievements. So whatever you do, don’t make simple mistakes that could potentially lead the employer to question your ability.
Before we go on let me just point out that there are a variety of types of covering emails. These include speculative covering emails, interview confirmation covering emails and post-interview covering emails.
However, here I’m going to talk about a general covering email sent as part of an initial job application. Bear in the mind that each job application may have specific instructions for the application process, so it’s important to understand exactly what’s required – and comply – before you hit send.
Here are a few things you need to be conscious of when producing your covering email.
Address it to a real person
There’s nothing worse than receiving an impersonal ‘To Whom It May Concern’ job application. Then there are those that are sent for the attention of the ‘Recruitment Manager’ even if no such person exists! Worse still, I’ve received countless ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ email applications from seemingly desperate applicants who use a one-size fits all approach, and send as many of the same covering email as possible. It should be your aim to make a great first impression, so spend some time researching the name of the person dealing with the applications. Address the covering email to a real person to help your application stand out from the others. That way you can begin to develop a relationship with a new contact who you can phone to check your email has been received.
No spelling errors or punctuation issue, full stop!
A great email cover letter needs to have good grammar and spelling skills, that goes without saying! So if your application has obvious errors then you’ll probably make it easier for the hiring manager to disqualify you because you’ll appear clumsy and unprofessional. It’s really important to build a reputation as someone who pays attention to detail, and your covering email provides a massive opportunity to do just that. So – whatever you do – don’t forget to check the e-mail before you send it and if necessary, get a second opinion.
Keep it brief
When you write your covering e-mail it’s important to empathise with the recipient. Remember they’re probably really busy sifting though reams of applications as well as doing their day-to-day duties. You should aim to make it as easy as possible for them to read your e-mail quickly by keeping the message brief, relevant and to the point – 150 to 200 words should suffice.
Format the covering e-mail in such a way that makes it easy for the reader to see what they’re looking for and quickly absorb important details. Break the e-mail up into three succinct sections:
• Your desire to do the job, where you saw the advert and include any job reference details
• Refers to your most relevant skills and ideally, at least one relevant achievement
• Close with a positive call to action and reiterate your desire to do the job
It’s not a letter
A covering e-mail or letter both have a formal tone and convey a similar message. Having said that, a covering email is usually much shorter in length than a letter. There are one or two things that you should avoid in the covering email.
Don’t use address columns. That will only add to the length and take the focus away from the main content. There is no need for a reference line in the body of the email message, because you should make reference to the job in the subject box of the e-mail. Your covering e-mail should be shorter than a letter. This will allow the reader to absorb the message very quickly from their desktop or on-the-fly using their mobile device.
It’s acceptable to sign off an email with ‘Regards’ or ‘Kind Regards’, whereas a cover letter usually requires you to sign off using ‘Yours Sincerely’. Oh and don’t forget to put an e-mail signature – containing your phone numbers – to enable the reader to easily and quickly call you if needed.
Don’t let your email get ‘lost’ in their inbox, use a reference number
Here’s one that’s really easy to implement: put the job reference details in a place that makes it easy for the reader to see, and helps distinguish your message from the other emails in their inbox. I recommend the subject box of the e-mail message. Having a job reference number makes it so much easier for the reader to scan their inbox and quickly find related e-mails. If no reference number exists, use the job title.
Keep it relevant and reflect their tone of voice
Another test of your copywriting skills is maintaining brevity and relevancy, whilst reflecting the tone of voice of the employer. Before you begin writing your covering e-mail, have a look at the job description, job advert and employer’s websites to gauge what they’re looking for. Then sell your skills and achievements to reflect their requirements. Use language and phrases to reflect the employer’s tone. This will demonstrate you could be the person they’re looking for, and you have the skills they require.
Don’t just focus on skills include evidence of success
Today’s job market is crowded and competitive and let’s face it, there are possibly thousands of job seekers who have the same skills as you. So why should you get the job and how can you add punch to your covering email?
My advice is to avoid trying to second-guess what the employer wants and don’t just list your skills (for example, producing blog posts and writing website copy for a range of X clients). Instead, analyse the job description to understand the most important two or three skills for that particular job. Then use skill statement sentences to provide evidence of how good you are.
What’s a ‘skill statement sentence?’, I hear you ask. These are sentences consisting of three parts: first part is ideally a verb, skill or word that suggests action, the second is the scenario in which you used that skill, and the third part is the outcome.
Here’s an example: ‘Writing blog posts for X clients generated an additional 300 new subscribers per day’. Your blog writing skills may have also ‘achieved 300 comments’ and ‘X number of likes on Facebook’. Talk about how your writing skills ‘helped to improve websites conversions by X percent’.
But of course, to provide such evidence you need to be abreast of what you’ve contributed, have direct or indirect access to data, and keep records of your achievements on various projects. This might require extra effort on your part, because you will have to gather this data on the job or even once you’ve finished working on that project. However it will put you in good stead for future applications (including on your CV and in interviews) so it’s well worth the effort.
Use positive words for a positive tone
Imagine you are writing for a client when constructing the covering email and ask yourself, “What are they looking for?” The answer to that question is not always obvious so you’ll have to dig for the information. But one thing is for sure, they want you to be positive.
Your choice of words can influence the tone of the email message, so choose carefully and avoid using too many of the clichéd words and phrases such as hard working, creative and good interpersonal skills. Instead focus on providing examples of relevant skills (using the skill statement technique that I mentioned earlier). Steer clear of words and phrases that can be interpreted as being negative, for example, ‘my objective is’, ‘made redundant’, ‘unemployed’, or ‘lost my job’
End with a call to action
In the final paragraph you should maintain a positive and confident tone of voice and reiterate your ability to do the job in question (providing a short sharp example of another relevant skill statement). Prompt the reader to take action by saying you ‘welcome the opportunity to meet to discuss your application further’. On the other hand, you can suggest that you will take some form of action in stating that you will contact them by phone in the near future. Either way, a positive and proactive approach is needed and the email gives you the opportunity to instigate the action. Once you’ve sent the message make sure you follow up with a phone call.
Follow up with a phone call
There will come a time when you’ll have to put your sales and marketing hat on to make a cold (or lukewarm) call. The reason I say this is because email is by no means 100% reliable particularly due to spam filters. Furthermore, there’s a small chance that your application will not be read by the intended recipient because their inbox is jam packed with other messages.
A follow-up phone call is a must for the vast majority of typical email applications because you can check that your application has been received. A carefully planned phone call to the employer also allows you to introduce yourself and highlight your relevant skills so that you stand out from others who might leave things to chance.