Now that you’ve written your resume in English, and you’ve found a job advertisement, here are a few tips on how to write a respectable cover letter. I consider these tips to be the ‘good manners’ you’d want to extend to your potential new company.
When we’re editing cover letters at English Trackers, I’ve come to realise that many people don’t know how to start or finish a letter in English.
Compared to some of the flowery endings you find in other languages, English is incredibly simple and the salutation and sign off should be learned in pairs.
Let me explain.
The Salutation – How to start a cover letter
There are three possible choices:
You know the person’s name – then use it:
- Dear Mr Parker
You don’t know the person’s name – but have been told to write to the HR department:
- Dear HR Manager
You don’t know the person’s name and don’t want to offend either gender:
- Dear Sir or Madam
NOTE: Do not use ‘To Whom It May Concern’
This should only be used on letters of reference, certificates etc. These kinds of documents are submitted over and over again, and are therefore addressed to many different people – whomever it may concern.
The Sign Off – How to end a cover letter
There are only two choices: Yours sincerely or Yours faithfully
Here’s a very simple way of remembering whether you end with Yours sincerely or Yours faithfully.
“You can never have more than one ‘S’ in a salutation and signoff.”
Therefore – Dear Sir & Yours sincerely – should never appear together.
If you know the person’s name, you ALWAYS sign off with Yours sincerely. For every other salutation, you sign off Yours faithfully.
- Dear Mr Parker – Yours sincerely
- Dear Ms Little – Yours sincerely
- Dear Sir – Yours faithfully
- Dear Madam – Yours faithfully
- Dear HR Manager – Yours faithfully
I said it was simple! If you want more info on coping with letter etiquette, download the English Trackers Email Etiquette Tips – we’ve covered just about every eventuality in there.
Setting the tone
Tone is not an easy thing to master in another language. You need to write in such a way that you don’t presume anything – that the person will call you for an interview, that the company will hire you etc. – but you do want to show you’re a good fit for the position.
Endings are very hard – as hard and important as the beginning of a cover letter, and they merit a fair amount of time. You want to end on a positive note that points to the future – the possibility of an interview, the submission of further information.
In the edited version below, these two points are merged together into one fluid and positive last sentence.
I thank you for taking the time to consider my application, and would welcome the opportunity to discuss my qualifications with you in more detail.
In the following unedited example, the first sentence is not too bad in terms of tone, but the second sentence is basically an order; there is not even a please or a thank you!
In case this application together with my attached CV has paid your attention I will be happy to elaborate on the value I can bring xxx company.
As I am permanently employed it is very important that you treat this application with full discretion and confidentiality.
Below, is a polite, edited version of those two sentences:
Should you wish, I would be very happy to discuss the contents of this letter and the enclosed CV in person. I would also request that in light of my on-going permanent employment this application be treated with full discretion and confidentiality.
And don’t forget, when you’ve finished writing – edit, edit, edit.
Re-read it and then if possible, leave it for a night. Come back to it fresh and go through it again. Ask someone else to read it – preferably a native English speaker – and only when you are sure it’s error free and ready to represent you politely – then push SEND!
Good luck with your job applications.
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Have you ever wondered what your emails say about you?