10 Nov 2016

Covering Letters...

It’s quite tricky writing a recruitment blog. I’m often aware that I might sound like I’m whinging or that I sound grey and beyond my years.  The world of recruitment though is one area where I think there are still ‘niceties’ to be observed and whilst this world has evolved from the snail pace of the pre-email days (actually I don’t remember those...), but equally, it’s important to know where some element of formality and etiquette is required.  Obviously one size doesn’t fit all and recruitment is extremely subjective.  Whilst in professional services, you’d need to be suited and booted for interview, there are some advertising agencies who’d possibly reject you on that basis if you turned up like that.  So ultimately it’s about knowing your audience, which as marketers we’re all meant to do anyway.  Tailor your own personal message to who you are targeting and you won’t go far wrong.

Anyway, the subject of today’s rant – sorry, blog post was meant to be Covering Letters.  Folk in regular communication with me will already know that last week I had an application from a candidate with a very lengthy covering letter.  The main premise for their application was entirely based on them being a Virgo.  And whilst I wasn’t intending to offend anyone with astrological beliefs, it was a good example of a covering letter that did more harm than good and both the letter and the CV were sent to the virtual shredder.

These days 100% of my own job applicants come to me electronically.  Either through online job sites, email or recommendations.  Clearly, the requirement for a covering letter is dependent upon whether it is actually an ‘application’.  Most of my recommendations are candidates dropping me an email because I’ve helped a friend or colleague and they’ve passed on my details. In those situations, no covering letter is required.  A simple email with a CV attachment will suffice.  It’s worth perhaps giving me a couple of lines as to your own personal situation and I’ll then give the candidate a call for an initial chat and we’ll run any/all suitable roles by that person.

Where a candidate is applying for a specific role via a jobsite, I think generally you’ve either got to do all or nothing.  I appreciate that candidates apply for a lot of jobs but simply cutting and pasting a cover email just leads to errors.  I’m frequently in receipt of an email replying to a job advert for An Account Manager to find a covering email that says; ‘Dear Jane, I’m writing to apply for the role of Marketing Manager....’ and so on.  It has come to the point where I will review the CV first. If the CV is one that I can work with, I’ll call the candidate. Often, I won’t even look at the covering letter.  I imagine that other recruiters work on this basis too so it’s often pointless spending the time writing one.

If you are going to write a covering note. Keep it brief and to the point. Perhaps get a few salient points in there to spark an interest.  Make it relevant to the application. You need to try to catch the recruiter’s eye for the right reasons.  All CVs from online jobsites come as an attachment and a few words with the attachment are fine but like I say, brief, relevant and on message.

When I send CVs to my clients, I always write a synopsis of the candidate – typically only after I’ve met or had a good chat with them.  So I think your time is better spent on your CV.

Obviously, if you’re applying directly to a business from an advertisement, I’d pay more attention to the covering letter but most of my rules would still apply.   In the world of marketing, I can’t think of any client who would find your star sign relevant to your application for a job.  Pick out the words and phrases from the advertisement which you think are particularly relevant to you and respond to those points in your letter.  Don’t write war and peace – after all, you’re just trying to engage with the employer and highlight your skills but that can typically be done in a couple of short paragraphs. Your CV will (should) sell you in.  In my time as a recruiter I’ve come up with plenty of wacky approaches, particular from creative candidates, but ultimately, a strong CV will speak for itself and open doors.  I’m not saying wacky doesn’t work, but you need to again know your audience as it could just as easily go against you.  A few candidates have done video cover letters which, if done properly, can work well but it has to be appropriate to the environment you are applying to.  I can still remember one such video which made the candidate look and sound like an axe murderer.  However, the client loved it and he got the job.  He is still there 5 years on.   Don’t automatically assume that an Advertising agency will LOVE your totally unique and creative approach – sending a single sock to a client is a bit of a clich├ęd one.  However, if you’re certain you’ve got the measure of the person you are sending it to – go for it.

It is unforgivable to have typos or obvious copying & pasting in a covering letter and whilst the odd recruiter might overlook it, a direct client recruiter won’t.

So in summary, if you want to avoid being the subject of the Recruiter forum’s ‘highlight of the week’, stick to the basics and do it well.  Less is sometimes more and ultimately your CV will do most of the work for you,

Other application pet hates:

The use of the word Passion/Passionate. Grr.
The use of the word Strategic, by new graduates.
Inappropriate photos on CVs.  (In fairness I don’t like any photos on CVs – see previous blogs).
Typos.  Check your name (really).  Roll and Steakholder are the two most common bloopers.
Extended hobbies and interests.  Golf handicaps/marathon times/names of children/animals.

This list is not exhaustive.