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How to write a letter to get a job (02 Jun 16)

Most people never write a more important letter than this

Why I would never have employed my own daughter - and what she should have done

I bet you can relate to this.

My 19 year old daughter Ally was at a dreadful stage in her life. She was trying to get a job, which means she had to write letters.

Admittedly it was only for a summer job while at university, but it’s still pretty important. But since she is young with hardly any experience of this part of life, she was at sixes and sevens on how to go about it.

Let me tell you what happened

She sent her unsolicited CV to a famous jewellery firm she was pretty keen to work for. I asked her if I could have a look at what she sent, in case I could help in future.

My heart sank when I read what she had sent, as I knew if the letter arrived on my desk I wouldn’t have wanted to interview her. I felt like kicking myself, too, since I do sales letters all the time and here was my own daughter not even getting the basics right- because I hadn’t helped.

And let’s face it, a letter to get a job can either start you out on a career – or fail to do so. This could be the most important letter she would ever write.

It got me thinking that there must be lots of other parents out there with children in the same boat so I thought everyone might benefit if I looked at how Ally could have done a better job – and she would also do better next time.

If you find these tips useful, please pass them onto any young people you know who are about to look for a job. They probably need all the help they can get.

You might even be looking for a job yourself and be a bit rusty. And don’t worry I am not going to bore you to death every week about Ally’s job hunting, though if I find something that does work I will pass it on to you.

Let’s look at what she sent in.

The application had no covering letter to speak of except something along the lines of, “ I would like to work for your company this summer so I am enclosing my CV”. This 3 page statement of facts began like this:

“I am a hard working, intelligent and sharp person who works well on her feet. The experience from working in retail has helped me immensely in becoming very confident in selling goods to a variety of people. I have a friendly and approachable manner and greatly enjoy interaction with members of the public. I am also responsible and trustworthy, and work well in a team and on my own.”

Four things struck me when I read it.

Because there was no decent covering letter, it felt a bit like being whacked in the face with a wet fish. There was nothing linking her CV to the job she was applying for.

Secondly the whole thing was just about her and how good she thought she was.

There were no obvious benefits to the jewellery shop if they were to employ her. Thirdly and rather astonishingly there was no reference to the shop itself, or even the jewellery industry!

Fourthly the whole thing was utterly devoid of any enthusiasm or passion for the company or its products. (Sorry about this Ally)

I was dying to tell her she should have sent in a photograph of herself as people like to see who they might be employing and it helps to get their attention, but I didn’t have the heart as it was all too late and I didn’t want to make her feel too bad.

She is such a good looking kid (Her father would say that wouldn’t he?) that I thought a photo wouldn’t do any harm, particularly as the company sells very costly jewellery. Here is a photo of her, so you can judge for yourself

Congratulations to the mother - and count yourself lucky, Rod

It was no surprise to me when she didn’t get the job - a real shame as she really wanted to work for that company. You never would have guessed it though from what she sent in, and that was where she went wrong, as do thousands of others every month.

Now in the public sector CVs, “sales-y” covering letters and certainly photographs of candidates are frowned upon. But the principles involved in getting a job are the same anywhere, and even in the public sector at the interview stage you can’t escape that fact that you have to sell yourself.

Which brings me to my main point. Never forget, getting a job is an old fashioned marketing job: you are selling yourself and the aim of what you write is to get an interview. And what does good marketing involve?

Paying huge attention to detail, spending time finding out about a person and/or organisation, (in this case the prospective employer) thinking through the benefits of something (the job applicant) to another person (the employer) - and using your imagination to increase your chance of success.

Oh, and I should mention one other thing: making an effort.

Sorry about this, but very little comes easily in life, and marketing yourself to get job is no exception. But if you get the job you want it will be worth it a hundred times over.

So here is my advice to Ally:

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Comment by Fiona Fife Council — 13 Aug 10 at 13:11:06

I once helped a friend's son, a young man who had stunning university qualifications but could not get interviews. When I checked his CV he had spoken mainly about his qualifications (including numerous academic prizes) and I felt it made him look like a scary academic loner rather than a potential team member.
I asked him about work experience and hobbies. He was a scout leader and had led groups visiting the continent.
He had worked a summer job in a major hotel chain and was promoted to running the reception facility and staff because of his problem solving and negotiation skills with demanding customers and difficult staff.
I got him to include this info as examples of his leadership and organisational and team abilities with references from both organisations.
I felt he needed to emphasise his non academic skills and show he was a mature and rounded individual.
Result! he got several interviews and a job offer with a starting salary over £30k in 2001.

Not sure if you think this is relevant, but your article had echoes of my experience whilst helping this young man. He needed to understand that people can judge you harshly,and quickly, with only half the "picture".


Comment by Julie Gateshead Council — 27 Aug 10 at 12:01:55

I agree with all of what you say apart from one element. The photograph.

How a person looks relates in no way to how well that person can do the job. Jobs should be awarded on merit, not visual appeal, and unfortunately I think that would be the result if many of us sent a photograph.

Your daughter is beautiful, and smartly dressed in the photo. Not all of us are perceived as so aethetically pleasing, or appear as white, middle class citizens and this is just one more prejudice society can live without.


Comment by David Metropolitan Police Service — 17 Dec 11 at 08:32:32

Actually I think the photo is relevant if you are applying for the sort of job Ally was. Not only does it make it more likely that her application receives attention, but the ability to be well presented is valuable in a customer facing job. What sort of customer would go the jewellers? What would they expect? Cannot visual appeal sometimes be part of the criteria?

I am afraid our local government officer, though entitled to her view, is displaying the kind of levelling down, lowest common denominator attitude that has wrecked our education system and left our young people without a future. Why should Ally not make the most of what she has got just because others are not so fortunate? There is nothing wrong in being white and middle class nor should anyone feel they have to apologise for it.

Of course the job could probably done as well if not better by an older person, with more experience of life and the ability to relate to the older customer, who would still be smart and well presented, this is no reason for Ally not to make the most of her own qualities.

I shudder to think what Ally would have to do to get a job in Julie's Council!

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