A covering letter can make or break your chances of getting shortlisted for your dream job, however, it’s the area that most candidates fall down on. While CVs are carefully considered and crafted, all too often the covering letter is written in haste and half-heartedly. This does not go unnoticed by prospective employers and can result in you being ruled out before they even read your CV. I hope the following top 10 tips will help you get it right and excite the reader rather than get you eliminated.
1. UNDERSTAND THE PURPOSE BEHIND A COVERING LETTER
While the CV is a factual record of your employment history, the covering letter allows you to give employers an insight into who you are and why you’d be a great asset to their organisation. This is much more personality lead and an opportunity for you to “sell” yourself in a completely different way. Employers need your skills but also want to enjoy working alongside you.
2. GET THE RIGHT TONE FROM THE OUTSET
Don’t bullet point the covering letter or do headings, underlined or otherwise. Address the letter with a warm and engaging “Dear Mr/Ms………..” Sign off in the same way, expressing your gratitude to the hiring manager for “taking time out of their busy schedule to read the letter” or for “taking an interest” in your application. Perhaps say at the end that you very much hope to get the opportunity to meet them in person.
3. TAILOR IT TO THE CHARITY
Always start with your passion for the work the charity does and your sincere commitment to helping them achieve their goals. If you have a personal motivation for applying e.g. you or a family member directly benefitted from the services, make sure you mention that. It’s amazing (and worrying) when the covering letter doesn’t even mention the charity by name. This is a big black mark against you and if the job has attracted a large number of candidates, you could get rejected on this count alone.
4. BUILD A PROFILE OF YOURSELF
Allow yourself to inject some personality into this document so the charity can begin to build a profile of who you really are. Be disciplined and professional throughout but don’t be too stiff or formal. That can be off-putting by making you sound cold or pompous. You should aim for a more conversational tone, similar to how you’d interact at interview and, further down the line, with colleagues. Provided it’s well thought through and appropriate, some lightness of tone or humour can work very well e.g. at the end when you’re talking about your hobbies.
5. EXPAND ON CAREER SUCCESS
Your CV will only have limited information about your career history. Using the BTA candidate pack and job/person specification as a guide, elaborate on relevant skills and experiences. For example, if the job is for a major donor fundraiser, use one or two paragraphs to give a couple of tangible examples of your success in terms of prospecting, cultivation and stewardship, remembering to include the sums of money generated. If you’re applying for a manager position, talk about how you have motivated your team and led them to achieve or even surpass their goals. If this would be your first manager position, talk about how you’d approach it and the style and techniques you would use.
6. ADD IN ANY RELEVANT INFORMATION
You aren’t just a sum of your professional career. Many people who’ve succeeded at interview have done so because they have done something exceptional or meaningful in their personal life that makes them ideally suited to the job being advertised. Take this as an example. If you’ve been a volunteer for a charity for a number of years and a Volunteer Co-Ordinator position comes up, you will have a very valuable and empathetic perspective on the job. The covering letter is the ideal place to explain this so make the most of it.
7. GET THE WORD COUNT RIGHT
Your covering letter is the beginning of the interview process. The same rules apply – don’t be long winded or repetitive and give relevant and valuable information only. You should aim to fill no more than two pages, although when it comes to senior roles, the expectation is that you will do 3-4 pages as you will have a broader base of skills and experience, not to mention successes. Remember the goal is to give enough information to get you into the interview room not to provide every cough and splutter of your career history. Selling yourself as a good communicator and then showing a lack of discipline in this area can be catastrophic.
8. BEWARE CUT AND PASTE
It is apparent to everyone when a candidate does a cut and paste job from a previous application. Not only have we encountered the wrong charity name being used (a dead giveaway) but the covering letter will undoubtedly miss the mark in terms of highlighting your suitability to the specific requirements of the job being applied for. This is a blatantly lazy approach that will give off a very bad signal to the employer about your professionalism and passion for this job, not to mention your attention to detail.
9. PROOF READ
It never ceases to amaze us how often CV s are sent to us riddled with typos, mistakes, wrong names and appalling grammatical errors. This is across the board but is particularly notable when it comes to senior, and even Chief Executives. Use spell check on your laptop and always, always proof read several times. It’s advisable to ask someone you trust to double check before you submit. There is often time to correct the document if these errors are pointed out but it gives a terrible first impression if they are not. Remember, we do the first shortlist for our clients so you need to impress us first and foremost.
10. GET IN EARLY
Candidates tend to leave it until the last minute to send their CV s and covering letters to us. Sometimes they arrive a minute before the deadline. On occasion, we need to submit the shortlist to the client by the end of the day so this does not give us time to read your covering letter and track you down to recommend any changes. The earlier you get it to us, the more support we can give you. It also gets you on our radar and, possibly, on the shortlist at the very start.
A trustee is the most important person in a charity. They oversee the running of the charity, set the overarching strategy of the business and ensure that their goals are being achieved. By bringing a variety of skills and experiences from their working lives, individuals can make a real difference to a cause that is close to their heart. Currently there are 180,000 trustees in Scotland according to the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR).
There are a variety of benefits to being a trustee. Firstly it is a fantastic way of gaining further experience of management roles. No matter what role you play, you are making a huge contribution to a charity and the community as a whole. Working as part of a team of people in a variety of fields is a tremendous boost to your skills and helps your CV. Employers are often looking for people who have outside interests and by committing your time to a good cause whilst developing your skills puts you at an advantage.
Despite the various benefits, being a trustee is certainly a position not to be taken lightly, it is a big responsibility for anyone. Trustees are responsible for the future of the charity. You need to put the interests of the charity first ahead of anything else. It can also be a big commitment as each charity is different and some may want you to put in a lot of time, whilst others may be more manageable to fit around your life. Making sure a charity is the right one for you is vital. From the management style of the board to ensuring that the aims of the charity fit in what you want to do is very important.
Even though the UK is one of the best countries in the world for volunteering, it doesn’t necessarily translate to people becoming trustees. In Edinburgh alone there are 1800 voluntary sector organisations of which 90% have a vacancy of some sort at a senior level. This highlights firstly that charities are missing out on the talent and innovation in order for them to be successful but also that there is an opportunity to contribute to a wide variety of charities whatever your experiences and whatever you have an interest in. There is role out there for just about everyone.
There is a stereotype that trustee positions are reserved for older people who use their experience to help get a charity running smoothly. However whilst it may be true that the average age of trustees is 57, with 67% aged over 60, there is a real need for young people to get involved. A real mix of youth and experience ensures that a wide range of perspectives are heard. An older trustee may have vast experience of running a business but may not be as strong at relating to younger people. Young people can bring expertise of technology and bring a hunger and passion that benefits any charity. Everyone can learn a great deal from being on the board of a charity.
Therefore, whilst there are some challenges to being a trustee, it is a position that can be tremendously beneficial on a personal level and has the potential to do a lot of good in the community. With such a scope of skills required to help charities progress it is something that almost anyone can help to make a difference to the third sector and be very rewarding to those who decide to become trustees.
Trustees Week is 7-13 November. Charity Careers is posting this feature as we are recruiting a lot of board members this month. Have a look at http://www.charitycareersscotland.co.uk/ for details about these positions.
Written by Adam Lawrie
©Charity Careers Scotland
Scottish charities make up what is called the “third” or voluntary sector – the other two being the public sector (government; both local and national) and the private sector (commercial companies whose purpose is to make a profit. Other phrases used to describe charities include:
- Non-Governmental Organisations
- Good Causes
Scotland has over 23,000 charities, employing 138,000 people. They include a wide range of organisations including international aid providers, community groups, schools, churches universities and family centres.
What they all have in common; and what distinguishes them from other organisations are three key organisational necessities:
- Charities cannot be set up to make a profit
- Charities must be governed by volunteers
- Charities must declare exactly what it is that they have been set up to do, and have this approved before they can do it
The organisation that approves what charities do, and checks that they are doing it properly is OSCR (the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator). All charities in Scotland must submit a range of information to OSCR to show that they are behaving properly as a charity. Because OSCR makes this information public, the OSCR website (www.oscr.org.uk) is also a good place to look to find out more about an individual charity.
Charities employ a huge range of people with many different skills. Around 75% of charity staff hold non-fundraising roles such as carers, social workers, therapists, project managers and many other types of specialist staff to work directly with the beneficiaries of the charity.
Like any other organisation, charities also need people to keep them running smoothly, and charities also employ finance, HR, administration, legal, marketing, fundraising and management personnel.
What do you know about our organisation?
This one comes up 90% of the time. Be sure you have done your homework!
Why do you want to work for us?
Tailor your answer so that you show you can contribute in positive ways, to provide a solution for what the charity needs.
Tell me about yourself…
Remember to point out those characteristics and qualities that suit the position. This is not a time for a personal history.
What motivates you? What are your personal goals?
Indicate a desire to contribute to the charity in specific ways that you enjoy and do well, trying to make a match between the needs of the organisation and your abilities.
Why are you leaving your job?
Be sure you have a level-headed answer for this one. Do not rubbish your previous position or boss! Indicate positive reasons for seeking advancement, a change or a new challenge.
What qualities and experience do you have that are important for this position?
The interviewer has your CV, but he or she wants to hear how you can express your success. This is also a time when the interviewer may test your communication skills.
What has been your greatest accomplishment?
Remember to make your answer outcome orientated focusing on the organization and its clients rather than your ego. Stick to this guide and you’ll definitely come across as a stronger candidate in interviews.
We also suggest you refer to the job description and person specification and prepare good, detailed examples under each required skill set. Remember to be confident and articulate!
Finally, everyone at Charity Careers Scotland wishes you the best of luck!