How to write an engaging cover letter for the third sector

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Neville Rose, director of CV Writers, shares his thoughts on how to write a compelling cover letter for not-for-profit roles.

The cover letter continues to be an integral part of the application process. At CV Writers, we carried out some research amongst HR professionals and recruiters to find out the value placed on the cover letter. Whilst one out of three respondents would read a CV without an accompanying cover letter, a further one in three would only read a CV if the cover letter impressed them first. Clearly, as a job seeker it is better not take chances and always include a cover when asked to do so.

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Keep your letter brief

Some job seekers believe that the more you have to say about yourself the more likely you are going to be taken seriously. However, a very short time is spent reading CVs and cover letters - often less than 30 seconds. Therefore keep the letter brief. Three to four paragraphs is about right and certainly no more than one page. Remember the purpose of your CV and cover letter are about getting you to interview, they are not about getting the job. What to include?

If there is one message to take away from reading this, it is that your cover letter is all about showing how you meet the criteria contained within the person specification. If you have not read the person specification how do you know you meet the requirements? Quite simply, the scatter gun approach of sending the same generic letter for multiple applications is generally doomed to fail.

Every job will have different requirements that need highlighting in a cover letter. As a fundraiser your stakeholder engagement skills will need to shine, as a volunteer manager it may be all about your team leadership ability. Even jobs with the same title can have very different requirements and for this reason it is important to adapt your letter for each application.

Provide examples as evidence

There is nothing that helps a cover letter to stand out more than by using examples to illustrate your abilities. If these can be backed-up by facts and figures then so much the better. It is very easy to simply say you can do something but quite another to provide evidence. Using examples also helps the reader visualise your expertise which makes it far more likely to etch in the memory.

What about personal circumstances?

You are protected against any racial, sexual, age or disability discrimination so there is no need to include any of this type of information. Generally, it is better to only include positive information that you believe will help your application. Any other personal circumstances that may hinder your application are best left to interview when it is much easier to explain face-to-face.

What is the call to action?

The primary call to action for your cover letter is to get the employer to read and engage with your CV. After all, it is generally after reading your CV that a decision will be made on calling you to interview. So finish your letter by politely pointing the reader in the direction of your CV.

This article is written by Neville Rose, director of CV Writers. CV Writers are the official CV writing partner to Third Sector Jobs and specialise in writing CVs for not-for-profit professionals. In addition to a CV writing service, they can help with cover letters, LinkedIn profiles and interview coaching. CV Writers also publish Perfect CV, a professional CV writing toolkit that includes a series of how to write a CV videos, CV templates and a CV editing and checking service.

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