Friday, June 03, 2011

Writing a covering letter
Why write a covering letter?
As part of your application for a job, you will need to write a covering letter to accompany your CV - even if you are sending it by email. A covering letter builds on the information given in your CV. Its purpose is to state clearly why this company should employ you and your motivation for the job.
Employers will receive hundreds of letters like yours, so make sure yours stands out from the crowd. The opening paragraph is the most important - it can be make or break for the reader and decides if your CV even gets looked at. So put the same amount of effort into getting your letter right as you put into getting your CV right. Make it sound interesting, focusing on your achievements and strengths rather than just job responsibilities.
  • Remember to put your address and contact details in the top right hand corner. Then the employer's address underneath, aligned to the left.
  • Put the job title and reference number, if there was one.
  • Write to a named person - look on the internet or ring the company and find out exactly who you will be dealing with. Then address the letter to them. If you cannot find a name to write to, address the letter to 'Dear Sir'.
  • Include in your letter where you saw the job advertised.
  • Use the first paragraph to say why you were attracted by the advert - show you have done some research into the company and you are really interested in it.
  • Then describe how your skills and experience make you suitable for the job. Highlight relevant information from your CV, but do not just repeat what is already there.
  • Use action words and active verbs such as 'accomplished', 'achieved', 'organised' and 'produced'.
  • If you are writing to a named person, finish the letter 'Yours sincerely'. If you are writing to an unknown person, finish with 'Yours faithfully'.
  • Sign the letter by hand and type your name below your signature.
  • Keep it to one page, breaking up the text into paragraphs and using bullet points if appropriate. It needs to be clear and concise, so the reader can glance through and quickly pick out the main points.
  • Make sure your letter is unique both to you and your prospective employer. Does it need to be very business-like or more creative, for example? Take the opportunity to say the things that do not comfortably fit into your CV. It should be formal - but give a sense of your personality too.
  • Some employers ask for a hand-written covering letter - in which case, make sure your writing is legible and neat.
  • Use black ink and check your spelling, grammar and punctuation.
  • As with a CV, your letter should be clearly presented on good quality A4 plain paper and set out neatly with margins and equal line spacing.
Further information
  • 201 Killer Cover Letters, S. Podesta, The McGraw-Hill Companies (2003)
  • 175 High-Impact Cover Letters, R. Beatty, John Wiley and Sons Incorporated (2002)
  • Cover Letters for Dummies, J. Kennedy, John Wiley and Sons Incorporated (2000)
  • 101 Best Cover Letters, J. Block and M. Betrus, The McGraw-Hill Companies (1999)

Dealing with application forms

Many employers now use application forms as well as - or instead of - your CV. It allows them to compare candidates more easily and means they can ask for exactly the information they want to know.
Filling in lots of application forms may seem boring and time-consuming but, unfortunately, there is no short cut. You need to spend both time and effort on an application form if you want to beat off the competition from all the other candidates wanting the same job.
Before you start
The sooner you start, the sooner you finish - right? Not in this case. Before you even start to fill in any application form, make sure you do the following:
  • Read all the documentation sent by the company and re-read the original job advert. Some companies will also send you a detailed job description. Looking through these will help you understand what skills and experience you need for the job.
  • Read the form carefully all the way through. Do not write on the application; instead jot down any ideas or notes as you go along.
  • Make sure you understand what each question is asking - it is easy to misinterpret what you are being asked.
  • Pay attention to any instructions - do they ask you to use black ink or BLOCK CAPITALS? Do you have to list your qualifications in any particular order?
  • Check the deadline - aim to have the form in the post at least four days before the cut-off date. Do not leave it until the last minute before you start to complete the form, you will be more likely to rush it and make mistakes. Remember - most employers will not accept late application forms.

Dealing with application forms - continued

The form itself
When you receive an application form, either photocopy it or use a blank sheet of paper to practise your answers (many newsagents, post offices, public libraries and careers services will have a photocopier you can use).
To get you started, make a list of the things the employer is looking for and match yourself, your skills and experience to each of the questions being asked on the form. When you mention a new skill, quality or experience make sure you give an example - linking back to why it makes you right for the job. The employer is looking for you to demonstrate you have the qualities needed to do the job.
For example, were you in a school netball or football team for a few years? Are you a member of a society or social club? Have you done any voluntary work? Think about how the skills you used in these activities might be useful to the employer - e.g. problem solving, project management, time management, communication skills. If you cannot think of any examples, ask your friends and family - they might be able to remind you about activities you have forgotten or qualities you do not even realise you have!

Handy tips:

  • Make sure you answer all the questions. Never leave a section blank; each question has been designed by the employer for a reason. If you are certain a question is not relevant to you, explain why or write 'N/A' (not applicable) - it shows you have not just forgotten to fill that bit in.
  • Use clear, positive language and focus on your strengths. Concentrate on achievements that are most relevant to the job in question.
  • Never tell lies - you will be found out eventually and it could lead to your dismissal even if you do get the job. It is never worth it!
  • Keep responses short and to the point. You do not have to fill in a whole section.
  • Equally, if you have a lot to say do not try and cram it all in - it will look messy and be difficult to read. Instead, attach some extra sheets (but remember to mark them clearly with your name, the job you are applying for and the relevant question).
  • When writing a list, consider using bullet points for variety.
  • Book a short interview with a careers adviser to discuss the more challenging questions.
  • Keep a copy of the application form to remind yourself of what you have written!
  • Send a covering letter along with your application form, unless you are asked not to.
  • Send it in an envelope big enough to hold it without folding it. If it's folded it will look untidy.
There is usually a section on the form which asks you to write about yourself and why you want this particular job (it is often at the end of the form and may have a heading 'supporting information' or ask you to 'state why you think you are the right person for the job').
This is your chance to shine! Think about why you want this job. You can give relevant details here that have not been covered elsewhere in the form. You might want to include interests and hobbies that are relevant.
It is also a good idea to get someone else to check over your answers before you start filling in the final version of the form.
Only start to fill in the application form when you are happy with your draft answers.
Copy the completed form before you send it. Put the copy in a file with all the information relating to the job. If it is an on-line application, ensure you have a copy before you submit it to the company.

Presentation Skills

Presentation skills are an important aspect of many jobs. It is likely you will be asked to make a presentation as part of the job selection process. It gives an employer a chance to assess your communication skills and your ability to summarise and pass on information.
This section should give you a good idea of how to go about preparing and delivering a presentation. You can apply these guidelines to most situations in which you have to get up and talk in front of people.
Many people break into a sweat at the idea of having to talk in front of an audience, but giving a presentation does not need to be so traumatic.
Be prepared!
Preparation is the key to a good presentation. It can be the difference between a slick, compelling performance and a disaster. Poorly prepared presentations are likely to be either chaotic or boring. Fail to prepare and it is likely the information you are there to give, will not get across to your audience. Plus, you will feel much more confident about giving your presentation if you know your subject well.

Same-day presentations

In most cases you will be told in advance that a presentation is part of the interview process, but some interviewers like to spring it on you on the actual day. You will be given your subject and limited time for preparation. Make a plan so you make the most of the time you have: stay focused on your task and be clear about how you are going to prepare. Do not waste time chopping and changing your mind, you need to be decisive or you will run out of time.

Advance preparation

You have probably heard people say 'if you fail to prepare, you're preparing to fail'. Well - it is true! The preparation you do before the day will determine your success on the day. So you will need to do some research:
  • Know your topic - research it thoroughly.
  • Know your audience - ensure that what you are saying is relevant to them. Always keep your target audience in mind when planning your presentation.
  • Know the venue. This may sound obvious, but make sure you know exactly where it is. If you get lost or arrive late you will be panicked and flustered, which will affect your presentation.

Pyschometric testing

During your working life you are likely to encounter some form of psychometric or selection testing. These tests are often used by larger employers to help them select suitable candidates. They are formal assessments designed to measure your aptitude for particular types of task. The tests used will vary according to the abilities that are required for the job in question. They can also be used to assess your personality and motivation - getting the person with the right personal qualities is very important to most employers.
As well as helping employers select the best employees for the job, psychometric tests can help you:
  • make an informed career choice
  • identify obvious skills and abilities
  • identify hidden skills and abilities
  • highlight career options that you have not considered
  • provide an insight into your personality
  • provide an insight into aspects of work
Psychometric tests can give you an informed perspective on your strengths and weaknesses. This allows you to focus on new skills you need to acquire and other changes you need to make in order to further your career.
Types of test

Aptitude tests

Aptitude tests measure your ability for particular types of activity or ways of thinking. The results of aptitude tests can be used to check your score against others already working in a particular occupational area. The result is not about passing or failing but about identifying your strengths and weaknesses - and therefore your suitability for a particular job. Tests are usually in the form of multiple choice questions and will always be timed. If you are dyslexic or if English is not your first language you should inform the person organising the tests as soon as possible.
The main areas covered by these tests are:
  • manual dexterity and speed - accuracy and speed in performing manual tasks
  • mechanical ability - grasp of mechanical principles
  • clerical - capacity for clerical tasks such as sorting and filing
  • numerical - understanding and working with numbers
  • verbal - use, understanding of and reasoning with words
  • reasoning - applying logic to solve problems
  • abstract reasoning - solving logical problems of an abstract nature
  • diagrammatic - applying logic through the use of abstract diagrams and symbols
  • spatial awareness - measured through visualisation and manipulation of shapes
  • Take time to read through and fully understand instructions - ask if you are unclear about anything.
  • Work methodically.
  • Manage your time sensibly - work out how long you have got to answer each question.
  • Work quickly, but do not sacrifice accuracy for the sake of speed.
  • Do not spend too much time on a question you cannot answer or on checking - move on to the next.
  • Remember that questions may get harder further on in the test - do not spend too much time on the early questions.
  • Find out if marks are taken away for wrong answers - if so, avoid guessing if you do not know the answer.
  • Stay as calm as possible.

Interview techniques to help you get the job

If you have been invited to attend an interview you have obviously written an impressive application. The interview gives you the chance to prove that you are as suitable for the job in real life as you appear on paper. It also gives an employer the opportunity to see what you are like as a person and to assess whether you will fit in with other employees.
Types of interview
Interviews come in various forms and will normally be based on the information you supplied on your application form. Examples of different interviews are:
  • a question and answer session with one interviewer
  • a panel interview with several people asking questions
  • interviews that require you to give a short talk or presentation
  • a combination of the above - presentation and questions
The purpose of the interview
An interview is a two-way process which gives you the opportunity to 'sell' yourself to an employer; and for the employer to 'sell' their company to you. After all, they want to make a good impression too.
The interview is your opportunity to convince a potential employer that you are the best person for the job. The time you spend during an interview is valuable for you to make a decision if the job and company are right for you.

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