2. The letterhead

It is crucial that a recruiter can easily find out how to get in touch with you and this should be laid out clearly at the top of the letter.  Your name should only include first and last name (not middle names) and should be the name you wished to be called.  Sometimes, people find it easier to change their name if, for example, it is difficult to pronounce or spell – this is acceptable as long as you inform the prospective employer of your official name for the legal employment contracts that would follow upon acceptance of a job.

This is followed by your address on the next line which should be written in full so that the recruiter can clearly see where you live.  Although some people will travel a long distance to reach their workplace, it should be a reasonable distance unless you are obviously stating that you would relocate for the role.  Even the most willing may get despondent for a 2-hour one-way journey on a minimum wage and recruiters know that those who say they will travel any distance are unlikely to be long-term employees if they believe they live too far away.

The next line should state your telephone details (mobile and landline if you wish to use both but note that if there is a possibility of someone else picking up your landline phone in a less than professional manner, you may want to steer clear of this option!) Equally, it is not advisable to use a work phone number unless your current employer is aware that you are looking for work and makes allowances for this (in the case of redundancies whereby the company actively help and encourage you to find other employment).  If this is the case, this should be made clear to the recruiter as you do not want to start off on the wrong footing and appear to be less than professional by using your working hours to find another job.

Most people will have an email address but in case you do not have one, now is the time to set it up as employers will expect those job-hunting to be reachable this way. Do note that some email addresses are best kept for personal use and should never be sent to a prospective employer – the message this gives is that you are unprofessional and not concerned about what they may think of you which is not a good start at such an early stage in the recruitment process!  It would be in your interest to create a suitable email account purely for job-hunting purposes.  As with giving out your work telephone number, you should consider carefully before giving out your work email address as to whether it is appropriate.

2.1 - The recipient’s address

This should be written on the left-hand side of your letter and should include their full name, job title, organisation name and address without the use of commas (each written line by line, see samples for correct layout).

It is extremely off-putting for a recruiter if you fail to spell their name, job title or organisation correctly so make sure you double-check this.  This can be worsened especially if you lay claim to having ‘attention to detail’ in your work but not fulfilling that criteria in the first instance! If you do not know their job title, then leave it out rather than guessing it.

2.2 - Date

Your letter should be dated the day it is sent and should be written in full, eg. 15th March 2011 instead of 15/03/11.

2.3 - The recipient’s name

Your letter should always start with ‘Dear...’ followed by their title and surname. Do not write ‘Dear Personnel Director’, which should only be written in the recipient’s address or ‘To Whom It May Concern’. If you personalise a letter to a named person, it shows you have taken the time and consideration to make the right impression as you want to ensure the correct person is reading your letter. The only circumstances to use Dear Sir/Madam is when you have exhausted every avenue to get a name but have not had any luck – just be careful not to use ‘Dear Sir’ or ‘Dear Madam’ if you do not have any idea about their gender as you cannot make assumptions and do not want to make a bad first impression by a totally incorrect title.

Do also be aware of ceremonious salutations eg. a dignitary or peer and make sure you research the correct title for that person.

2.4 - Content

This will be described more in-depth but as an overview, the content of your letter should be around your USP, otherwise known as your Unique Selling Point. This is the one aspect that makes you better qualified to do the job than anyone else. The USP should answer the question ‘Why should I hire this person?’

2.5 - Signing-off

This is clear-cut and this rule should generally always be followed - if you have started a letter with ‘Dear Mrs Johnson’, you should sign off with ‘Yours sincerely’, or, if you must address it as ‘Dear Sir/Madam’, then you should end it with ‘Yours faithfully’.

The exception to this is where you know somebody and they are aware of who you are and may be expecting your application.  As quite often is the case, many jobs are gained from networking and this may be someone whom you have met who has asked you personally to send in your CV.  In these circumstances, you may address the person on a first name basis, e.g. ‘Dear Mike’, and if so, a more appropriate way to close the letter would be ‘Kind regards’.

To finish the letter, the last part is to sign it – an easy mistake to omit when having to concentrate on so much! However, do take the time to write a legible signature which should be written in black ink.

2.6 - Copies

If you are sending the same letter to another person within the company, you should state ‘cc’ with the name/job title of the person so that they know who else will have received your letter. Copies can be useful to send out as either person may have their own ideas about who they want to recruit so both may be looking for different skills and each see something in you that they like. Alternatively, if for example, you are being quite ambitious in going for a role for which you are mainly focusing on your transferable skills, whilst one person may overlook you, the other may see qualities in you that appeal to them so either way it is a cause for a potential discussion to take place about hiring you.

Other than that, it is polite to inform those to whom you have written about other people in the organisation who have also received your application.