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What needs to be included in a cover letter?

What needs to be included in a cover letter?
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In the days when all applications were sent by post, the cover letter was the first chance you had to ‘wow' a prospective employer. Now the process is largely electronic based, nothing has really changed.

Whether you're emailing your application or submitting it through your My Monster account, you have the chance to write a few choice words that will entice your reader to take a detailed look through your CV.

In the beginning…
Address your reader – if you know their name always put “Dear Mr Bloggs” rather than “Dear Joe” as over-familiarity at this early stage might suggest an unprofessional attitude.

The first sentence should then clearly state your intention to apply for the job. Recruiters are often covering many vacancies at one time and can get easily confused as to which applicant is applying for which job. Include any reference numbers provided to make it easy for them.

You want to reference your aptitude to do the job successfully, but your cover letter is not your autobiography – the main bulk of your experience and abilities should be included in your CV. The focus should be on how you meet an employer's needs so avoid the perception of being self-important.

Pick the main responsibility they're looking for you to undertake in the role and give an example of why you're the person they're looking for. “My experience of managing Network Support Engineers will help to ensure the smooth running of your computer systems to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of your business.” is an example of a need that can be met.

Watch the length
Two short paragraphs is plenty of room to sell yourself. You want to be as punchy as possible as your reader will probably be a very busy person with limited time to trawl through a long letter. Concise and compelling is the way to go.

You may want to include a ‘next step' for your reader, such as “To see how I could take your marketing to the next level, take a look at my CV to see the achievements I've had during my time with ABC Widgets.” This clearly points the employer to the part of your CV you think will persuade them to give you the job.

If you're applying to a number of similar positions, chances are you're tweaking one letter and using it for multiple openings. That's fine, as long as you are customising each one. Don't forget to update the company, job and contact information - if Mr. Jones is addressed as Mrs. Smith, your application will go straight into the bin.

Be sure to include your contact details so they can get hold of you when they need to. This information should also be on your CV, but there's no harm doubling up.