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Writing a successful covering letter

Written by: Pamela Buxton
Published on: 5 Nov 2018

As the first contact with your prospective employer, the covering letter is crucial. Get it wrong, and you risk being discarded at the first hurdle. Get it right, and you ensure that the person reading your application not only goes on to look at your CV, but does so having already formed a positive impression.

Mostly, a successful covering letter is simply about getting the basics right. Firstly, make sure you personalise your application to the practice concerned as well as addressing it to the correct, named person and clearly identifying which job you’re applying for. No-one wants to receive an obviously standard letter that’s been sent out to hundreds of other practices – they can spot them a mile off.

‘It’s better if candidates send a tailored covering letter addressed to our organization rather than a speculative one,’ says Erika Rudinska, human resources manager and associate in the London office of Perkins + Will. ‘We’re looking for this to indicate a knowledge of our practice, why they feel their experience is relevant, and what skills they can bring.’

Secondly, good grammar and spelling really do matter, so make sure there are no mistakes. As well as using spellchecks, it’s often a good idea to ask someone else to read over your application before you send it, especially if English is not your first language.

‘The number of covering letters and emails with spelling mistakes is absolutely unbelievable - a lot of mistakes are because people don’t print things out and look at them off-screen,’ says Simon Cottingham, director of London practice MEPK Architects. ‘We do disregard these applications. It’s not so much a concern that the spelling isn’t great, but the lack of care and attention that this reveals. We’re in a sector where these things really matter. If they don’t check spelling, they might not also check their drawings, which is fundamentally important.’

In terms of content, keep it short and sweet, tailoring the wording to suit the job and the practice you’re applying to, summarising relevant experience to the application and if relevant, stating visa status.

Perhaps reference a practice’s specialist area to show that you’ve done your homework. But be careful to pitch this right – be sure to avoid gushing.

As well as the words themselves, attention to good presentation and layout is particularly important when applying for a creative job.

‘I’m judging on graphic and presentation quality – how it’s set out is often as important as how it reads,’ says Mark Doohan, director of London and Bedford practice Benchmark Architects.

Sometimes a handwritten application can catch the eye amongst the deluge of applicants – as long as, of course, it is legible.

‘I very rarely look at the covering letter. The only ones I look at would be those that are handwritten,’ says Mike Lawless, director of Brighton-based LA Architects.

Keep your letter simple, error-free and well presented. If you do, you’re at least in with a chance of securing that all important interview.

Covering letter checklist

• Address the application to the correct, named person
• Tailor the letter to the practice and job advert
• Be concise
• Reference relevant experience
• Avoid spelling and grammatical mistakes
• Take care over the presentation and layout

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