Covering Letter and Application Form Etiquette.
Applying for your first graduate job can be an overwhelming experience. The choices you make now will affect the rest of your career. We are not trying to scare you, but your next move needs some careful consideration.
Once you have done some research into the type of graduate role and industry you are interested in and found some jobs you would like to apply for it is time to move on to the application stage. Here are some helpful tips to ensure you get over that first hurdle and don't miss out on that perfect graduate job because of silly oversight during the application process.
Applying for a graduate job is a skill that should be taught whilst at university. It is like one of those life skills that everyone needs;such as setting up a bank account, balancing your cheque book and developing good communication skills. If you have never been taught how to do it or given any guidance, chances are you won't get it right first time.
If the application requires you to send your CV to the employer, always attach a covering letter. Your covering letter is the first contact you will have with a graduate employer. This is an important opportunity to persuade the reader to read on! Your CV should always be accompanied by a covering letter and your covering letter should be tailored to each position and recruiter, just as you would with your CV.
When applying for a graduate job your covering letter should be no longer than one side of A4 and strike an appropriately enthusiastic but professional tone; remember this is a business document that demonstrates to a graduate employer that you can be taken seriously.
Content of a Covering Letter
Always try to find a name, rather than a job title, as it demonstrates to the employer that you have done your homework and have researched the organisation; Dear Ms Smith is much better than Dear Sir/Madam.
Introduce yourself briefly (recently graduated with a 2:1 in Business from University of Nottingham) and, if appropriate, tell them which graduate job you are applying for and where you saw the advert. "I wish to apply for the position of ... as advertised on the gradplus website".
Use this paragraph to explain why you are interested in the graduate job and/or the organisation. This is a golden opportunity to target the letter and to demonstrate that it's not one of thousands issuing from your printer. Try to say something original about the organisation, but if you know very little about them concentrate on the factors that attract you to the work.
Now it is your chance to really impress upon the employer why you are just right for this graduate job, in terms of skills, experience and personal attributes. Illustrate your unique selling points with three or four excellent examples, rather than try to cover everything. Try not to duplicate information on your CV but rather use this opportunity to complement the skills and experiences you have highlighted on your CV. Make sure you always bare in mind the requirement of the recruiter.
Reaffirm your interest in the role and include the standard "looking forward to hearing from you". It is also a good place to state your availability for interview and to end on an optimistic and polite note "Thank you for taking the time to read my application, I am available for interview anytime... I will contact you shortly regarding my application"
Finally, don't forget the correct method of signing off: Yours sincerely if addressed to a particular name, Yours faithfully if you use Dear Sir/Madam.
Check Check and Check Again
Before you send your covering letter off get it checked. - A careless spelling error or common grammatical mistake can be lethal for a covering letter and may prevent you from getting that ideal graduate job.
Graduate employers often use an application form as a way of comparing candidates as there is a standard format and it is easy for them to find the information they are looking for immediately rather than sifting through lots of CV that are all formatted differently. Employers will be scanning through the application forms for relevant information and will filter out weak candidates that do not fit the requirements for the graduate job at this stage so make sure you identify what they want and tailor your application accordingly. Here are some other useful tips:
- Read the instructions - read the application form thoroughly and take note if your are instructed to complete the form in black ink or use block capitals. If you can't get the application form right the employer might not read on.
- Time is on your side - You should spend a generous amount of time on your application form. Consider all your answers carefully. This form is actually like a mock interview but you have time to think through all the questions and prepare really good answers. You can also ask others for tips and get them to check your answers before you sent it. It maybe an idea to take a few days to complete the form and go back to it with fresh eyes each day.
- Relevant information - As with your CV and covering letter tailor each application to the specific requirements of the graduate job you are applying for. Space will be limited so only list relevant information. If an employer reads anything they think is unrelated they are likely to turn off and not even look at your CV. Try to highlight the achievements and experiences that you have developed and describe how they will be of use for the graduate job you are applying for.
- Keep a copy - As with your CV and covering letter make a copy of the application form for your own records. It is always useful to remind yourself about what you have included on your application. You are likely to be quizzed over statements you have made so be ready for this and anticipate the question you might be asked (always have examples ready). It is also an idea to fill out a rough copy of this form to avoid messy crossings out which will be noticed. Make an effort with your handwriting. If the form is difficult to read you have made the employers life difficult. They may be reading hundreds or thousands of applications and will not have the time to waste on illegible handwriting.