Don't underestimate the power and importance of the cover letter. Cover letters and résumés work together to provide an accurate depiction of your personality and skill sets, résumés are a running list of qualities and experience, while cover letters elaborate on your professional accomplishments and how they align with the requirements of the position.
A cover letter should be a reflection of you, but should not deviate from conventional formats. While some content can be copy-pasted, show focus and commitment by personalizing the cover letter for each position you are applying for. A well written letter may set you above someone who has more experience but does not express interest and connection to the position as well as you do.
Learn more about the organization’s needs, mission, and goals to discover how your skills and background mesh. This will also help determine how you will fit into their organization. Most company websites are a great place to begin, but you can also search for articles, employment reviews, and press releases related to the organization and its activities. Talk with employees in the organization and other professionals in similar positions, most people are willing to chat if you approach them! Knowing as much as you can about your potential responsibilities will help you articulate that what you have to offer is a good match for what they need.
While carefully rereading the job description, make note of the required qualifications and job responsibilities, match your skills to their requirements. How do your courses, academic projects, internships and jobs, volunteer experiences, and extracurricular activities relate to the responsibilities and qualifications for the job?
- Avoid addressing your letter in the generic “To Whom It May Concern” manner. Your letter should be addressed to the specific person connected to the position, they may be a hiring manager, or the head of the department. If a name isn’t given don't hesitate to call the company to find out the name (and correct spelling) and title of the appropriate person.
- Keep your letter short. It should be concise, one page with three to four paragraphs
- Proofread your letter carefully, employers will be using your cover letter to assess your communication and writing abilities. Don’t rely on spell check, and try to begin your sentences with words other than “I”. Have a friend or Career Services proofread your letter.
- Be positive and concentrate on your strengths. Show your best side, but do not misrepresent or lie.
- Once you write your first draft, take a break or come back to it the next day for another review.
- Time your letter and résumé appropriately. Do not send them out the day after the job is posted, your letter is more likely to be read several days after the first wave of resumes arrive.
- Keep a copy for your files.
Employers vary in their submission preferences, be on the look out for specific instructions in their job post. Most will ask you to email or upload your cover letter and resume together in the same document. If emailing, it will help to alert the employer about the email content if you reference the position in the subject line of the email.