(Last Updated On: 09/02/2017)

I have found one of the least favorite parts of the job search for many students is writing the cover letter. For some, it’s way too time consuming. For others, they just don’t know what to focus on. And there are those that think it’s an essay about their entire life story, except somewhere in there they should mention something about the job being their absolute dream. There are two areas I always focus on when helping students navigate the cover letter: format and content.

Format

Intro/Purpose: Why are you writing?

This is the question that should be answered in the first paragraph. Your intro will determine whether a reader will be interested in continuing, so it should be, when possible and appropriate, interesting.

But even if you just stick to the basics, make sure you mention what position you’re applying for, where you found it, and why it’s of interest. This is where you can make it a bit personalized to the position. More on that later. Try not to be too cutesy, as it’s still a professional letter.

Body/Experience: Here is where you can shine! What are they looking for in a candidate? Most job descriptions will outline this, as they want the right fit. You can use it as a guideline for what you will want to emphasize about your skill set and background. This can be drawn from classroom experiences, activities, internships, part time jobs, etc.

Closing/Plan: In your closing, you should always reiterate your interest or underscore characteristics about your candidacy you want to remind readers of as they finish. Also, put a plan of action in place. Will you be calling in a week to ensure they received your materials? Introducing yourself at a recruiting event in the near future? Whatever your plan, follow through. And lastly, in your closing, be gracious.

Content

You’re not genuinely passionate about every job, and that’s okay. Candidates think they have to be overly complimentary and make a company think it is the only dog in the race. That isn’t necessary. You can desire to work for an organization without it being your “absolute favoritest dream job ever.” It can come off as insincere, most likely because it is. And besides, companies need to think they have to compete to win talent; no one wants the candidate no one else wants!

Think about the position and what it entails. Now demonstrate how you can fulfill that. As I mentioned before, most positions are going to be outlined in terms of what they’re seeking in a candidate. Really look at this list and your accomplishments. Do you have these qualities? Where did you pick up the skills they seek? What experiences have helped you gain proficiency in a certain area? This isn’t the time to be modest. You are not bragging if it’s the truth.

Don’t regurgitate your entire resume; focus on what you’d like your reader to know. They can look at your resume, but it can’t tell a story or draw attention to areas that can really express interest in a position. Let your cover letter draw a picture of you as a candidate. What drives you? What are you passionate about, what it attracting you to this position? These are not always obvious on a resume.

Avoid using the same letter for all positions. Each letter should be tailored to the company, position, and/or industry. If you can remove company A, and insert company B, and the letter doesn’t change at all, it is too generic. Even if you’re applying for 2 jobs, both in marketing, you should want to work for each firm for different reasons. So details you highlight should be specific; they shouldn’t make sense when attached to another firm’s name.

The other danger with using the same letter for multiple jobs is the dreaded cut-and-paste mishaps. There are so many letters that are rejected because of this. The letter may start with “I’d love to apply for this position at Target” and end with “I can’t wait to talk to someone about my interest in Macy’s!” I see it all the time. It can really make or break an application.

Lastly, as I always advise, proofread. And then proofread again. This is your first impression, and sometimes even a sample of your writing skills. Errors will not be tolerated. Career Center professionals can help you edit your drafts, paying close attention to grammar, spelling, and content.

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