Post-Grad Guideâ€“ Writing Your First Cover Letter
A cover letter is your first impression on a potential employer. A good cover letter will have them scanning your resume with interest, while a bad cover letter could get your application tossed in the trash before page two. Writing a cover letter can feel daunting for a new graduate because itâ€™s a kind of writing a student has never really had to do before. When writing papers you knew what was requiredâ€”the appropriate tone to take, what needed to be covered, and the basic format. A cover letter, on the other hand, is uncharted territory. Your cover letter will be pitched to a variety of people, not all of whom will share the same tastes (just look up â€œhow to write a cover letterâ€ and see all the conflicting advice), but Iâ€™ve outlined some tips below that, when infused with your personal experience and style, will help you to come off as professional and results-driven to any employer.
The first thing youâ€™ll want to do is to create your header. Every cover letter, even those sent over e-mail, should have your full contact information at the upper-right corner (like the return address on an envelope) with the date beneath it. The name of the person youâ€™re addressing should come just below the date. To know whose name to write in this space look at the advertisement for the job carefully, if they donâ€™t provide the name of the person accepting applications look at the e-mail address to which you are supposed to send your resume and cover letter. Most corporate e-mail addresses are the employeeâ€™s name @ the company name. If you can only find a last name and are unsure of the personâ€™s gender try a search of the companyâ€™s web page or simply plugging the e-mail and company name into a search engine. Finding out information like this wonâ€™t â€œcreep outâ€ a potential employer, they expect you to go the extra mile!
Hereâ€™s an example of what you should have so far:
318 Example blvd â€¢ City , State Zipcode
Phone 888-888-8888â€¢ E-mail: [email protected]
June 29, 2011
Dear Ms. (this is the correct form of address if youâ€™re unsure of a womanâ€™s marital status) Hiring Manager,
Now itâ€™s time for the first paragraph. Keep this one short and sweet. Say why youâ€™re writing (yes, even if the subject line of your e-mail is â€œapplication for x positionâ€), and mention how you heard about the opening. For example, â€œI am writing to express my interest in the x position listed on Craigslist.â€ Next, provide any certifications or degrees you may have: â€œI graduated on May 22nd with a degree in History from X college.â€ For the last sentence in this paragraph, briefly make a case for why you are a good candidate for the job. For example, if you were seeking a job as an intern with an event planning company, â€œmy experience as the social chair of the XYZ sorority has given me the experience necessary to operate effectively in the fast-paced business of event planning.â€
Moving on to the second paragraph is where most of the work comes in. Go back to the job posting and note the list of qualities that the company is looking for in the person who will fill this position. This list will often include personal qualities such as â€œexcellent organizational skillsâ€ as well as professional skills like â€œproficient in Microsoft Word.â€ Take this list and try to prove that you have each trait or skill on it by giving examples of times you have embodied that trait or used that skill to the benefit of a previous employer.
Example: â€œ As an intern at _____, I built a database for ____, utilizing my familiarity with Excel and my research skills to compile a variety of sources into a user-friendly catalog. Also, my time management skills and ability to manage multiple projects and deadlines are exemplified in the balance of commitments that I maintained during my time at X College. (you would then go on to briefly detail these commitments, such as clubs, which should also be relevant to the job).
In the third paragraph say why you want to work for this company specifically. Are they involved with your favorite charity? Do you use and love their products yourself? Tell them! Everyone likes to be first choice, and this also shows that youâ€™ve taken the time to do research into the company.
Finally, sign off by saying you look forward to speaking with them soon, and reiterating your phone number and e-mail address.
An important thing to keep in mind: Donâ€™t phrase your cover letter in terms of how getting this job will benefit you (give you an entry into the profession you love, fulfill your passion, etc.). This isnâ€™t college, and an employer doesnâ€™t exist to help you along in your â€œpersonal journey,â€ they exist to make a profit. You want to convince them that you will help them do that. So, in your cover letter, try to describe concrete ways in which you have contributed to the places you have worked in the past. Did you work there during a year the company won an award? Did you reorganize the filing system? Work that into a paragraph two example of the qualities the employer is seeking. Also try to avoid using â€œIâ€ at the beginning of sentences, and especially paragraphs, to get away from that self-centered feel.
When your cover letter is complete, if youâ€™re e-mailing your application (and you very likely will be) make the cover letter the body of your e-mail, but also attach a copy in a separate, clearly labeled, file that is separate from the resume, unless otherwise directed. You want sharing this great letter to be as convenient as possible!
Caitlin Sahm is a Marketing Associate, freelance writer, and editor based out of Upstate NY. She believes that just because the economy is not at its best doesnâ€™t mean your dream job isnâ€™t out there waiting to hear from you.