Cover Letter 101 For College Students & New Grads

Most of you are very unnerved by the prospect of writing a cover letter. There is something about the directness of the communication of the cover letter that has you running. Cover letters take work but we don’t think it is ever smart to pass up an opportunity to make your case more clearly to a recruiter or a hiring manager.

Writing an effective cover letter:

We keep it simple with a four paragraph strategy. First of all – remember that you have one critical thing to accomplish in a cover letter and that is convincing the reader that there is a strong connection between your skills and experiences and the requirements of the job. Along the way you can also show your other desirable qualities, but don’t forget your primary goal.

Here is the formula to create your cover letter.

  • In the first paragraph tell them who you are, what school you are graduating from and your major, as well as the job you are applying for. Look at the list of requirements in the job description and take a sentence or two to claim that you have as many of the qualifications as you can back up in the rest of the cover letter. Ignore the rest of them.
  • In the second and third paragraphs tell stories that illustrate these skills and experience you are claiming to have.  Are they looking for marketing experience? Tell them about the marketing campaign you ran for a small ice cream business and the way it increased sales or how you did a competitive analysis of a large non-profit’s social media efforts and made recommendations (which were implemented) for improving their approach. Do they need someone with strong analytical skills? Tell them the story of how you helped a hospital understand why they were losing money in their cancer practice. Keep it simple and in these stories help them see the problem you were faced with, the actions you took and the results of those actions. Use your best stories that actually connect to their needs.
  • In the last paragraph tell them why you are interested in their company and the open position. Do your homework about the company and be sincere.  Thank them for their time and ask for the interview. Make sure your contact information is on the cover letter as well as the resume.

You get bonus points if you can speak directly and can limit the buzz words. More if you can make your stories vivid so they can see you in action. Here are two different examples of opening to an engineering major’s third paragraph:

A. I worked closely with my colleagues to find a solution to a technical problem on the braking line, or

B. After hearing my co-workers talking about a technical problem that they were struggling with on the braking line, I popped my head over the top of my cubicle and said “what if we tried this”?

In both cases the writer would need to go on and describe the action they took and the results. But with example B, I already have a picture in my mind of an energetic, action-oriented and collaborative perspective employee. As a hiring manager I am more interested.  

There are two things you want to avoid doing at all costs.

The first is having errors in your cover letter. When I was a recruiter, I would simply throw out  applications with spelling errors or typos. You must have a good writer check your cover letter over. The second is making claims that you can’t back up. Everything you put in that letter will become a question in an interview. 

If you feel like you need more help in linking your stories to the requirements of the job feel free to contact us for a free 30 minute consultation. 

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