In some South Asian countries, the term “biodata” is generally used to refer to a record of one’s educational background, employment history and salary information. The corresponding term in British usage is curriculum vitae.
Both these terms are now being replaced by the American “résumé” (pronounced the French way as three syllables).
Before the introduction of such tabulated information, job seekers wrote long letters in running prose. Such letters tended to be rather long, and contained a liberal sprinkling of such cliched expressions as “it shall be my constant endeavour”, and “to the satisfaction of my superiors”.
Preparing a résumé today generally means providing information in a prescribed format, which may carry sections such as education, experience, publications, and awards or distinctions.
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Since the résumé carries exhaustive information about the applicant’s skills and work experience, people tend to believe that a simple forwarding note would suffice as a cover letter.
Career counsellors today see in the cover letter an opportunity for the job applicant to show how he is different and to show that the experience and skills he has mentioned in the résumé are relevant to the functions of the position he is applying for.
The cover letter essentially has three parts: the introduction, body and conclusion.
The opening paragraph explains why you are applying for this position. How did you come to know of this opportunity? Why do you consider yourself suitable for the job?
While the résumé is the same for most situations, the cover letter can be adapted to the company and the position sought.
The body of the letter presents your case strongly. In one or two short paragraphs, you present a quick overview of the résumé, highlighting the salient points relevant to the position.
The middle section of the letter will be crucial in determining the result of your application at the entry stage.
The concluding paragraph reiterates your conviction that you possess the skills required for the job. Here you state how you propose to follow up on your application.
You can bid for an interview where you can answer further questions. Name the referees who can comment on your work experience.
There are some common mistakes in cover letters that you have to guard against. The chief enemy of good writing in the cover letter is prolixity. Be brief and concise.
Close the letter with a polite phrase such as “Thank you for your consideration”.
V.R. Narayanaswami, a former professor of English, has written several books and articles on the usage of the language. He will look at the peculiarities of business and popular English usage in his fortnightly column.Comments can be sent to email@example.com