Make Your Cover Letter Count in a Competitive Job Market
Today’s primary modes of communication are e-mail, text messages, and web pages. The job search process is no different. Most job searches are done on the Internet, and job seekers e-mail their resumes or complete online applications.
Given these facts: Are cover letters still necessary?
While the answer varies, the majority of human resource representatives and recruiters say yes. Done the right way, a cover letter can capture the second glance needed in a competitive job market.
There are two tips for crafting a catchy cover letter: follow the formula and personalize it.
Tip #1: Follow the formula
Cover letters contain four components with one essential question answered in each.
Paragraph One – Introduction
Who are you and why are you writing?
Paragraph Two – Highlight of Qualifications
How has your education, previous employment, or other experiences repared you for the position?
Paragraph Three – Connection to the Company
Why is this company or job a good fit for you?
Paragraph Four – Closing Statement
How interested are you and where can you be reached for an interview?
Tip #2: Personalize it
Paragraphs one and four follow standard formats. The opportunity for your application to connect with a recruiter is in paragraphs two and three.
Paragraph Two: Draw attention to yourself
When you read the job description and you declared, “I’m perfect for this job!” Tell the recruiter why. Is it because of a particular course you studied? Did you complete an internship that allowed you to perform similar duties and responsibilities? Were you able to develop a skill set through a part-time job or campus activity that is applicable to this position?
Make the connection between your past and this job. Don’t repeat your resume, but rather make reference to items on it that you especially want the recruiter to be aware of.
Paragraph Three: “Professional Flattery”
Your job search will reveal many positions for which you are qualified, but not all of them are of interest. What makes this position or company different? Pinpoint specifics about the job description that catch your eye. Research the organization. If the company product or workplace philosophy is appealing, tell the recruiter why.
Avoid empty compliments. Recruiters can spot meaningless sweet talk a mile away.
Pitfalls to Avoid
Applicants sometimes forget professionalism, and even common sense, when it comes to e-mailing and the job search. If your e-mail contains any of the following, hit the delete button.
- A risqué e-mail address. Use a basic e-mail address comprised of your name, initials, or something similar. Save
for corresponding with friends.
- Greeting the recruiter by their first name. If you know the recruiter’s name, don’t forget that Mr. or Ms. is still necessary. Just because Ms. Jane Doe lists her first name doesn’t mean you can call her Jane.
- A salutation that doesn’t begin with “Dear.” This is a business letter. Beginning the correspondence with “Greetings,” “Hello,” or “Hi There!” is not acceptable.
- Emoticons. 8-) :-( ;-) Emoticons are used to convey attitudes or emotions, both of which are irrelevant in a cover letter.
- Acronyms. LOL, COB, FAQs. As with emoticons, acronyms have no place in job-search correspondence, unless they are standard acronyms, such as that used for a company or association. For example: NACE (National Association of Colleges and Employers) is appropriate. “The 411 about NACE is very positive” is not.
by Kelli Robinson
JobWeb.com - Career and Internship Center and job-search advice for the new college graduate
A Cover Letter... What's That?
A cover letter is your face to the company. It is addressed to a person at the company when possible and always accompanies your résumé. It is an opportunity to let your potential employer know more about you than just what is on the résumé.
Use the cover letter to express yourself, your passion for working at the company, and as an example of your writing skills. You want to reflect on how your skills and experiences match the needs and interests of your potential employer, as well as the requirements for the position. Always send a cover letter with your résumé - even if the job description does not specifically say to.
Things to keep in mind as you write a cover letter
- Research the company of interest. Find out about the services offered and the logistics of the job so that you can tailor your letter to that position and company.
- Focus on what you can do for the employer, not how this job will benefit you as an employee. What makes you stand out from other applicants?
- The desired length of a cover letter should be one page. You may consider using the same heading on your cover letter as you did on your resume for consistency and style. This can help you stand out in the crowd.
- Font size should be 10-12 point in Arial or Times New Roman font type consistent with style used on your résumé.
- Salary Requirements: Visit the Career and Internship Center to review nationwide average salary data for new graduates if you are asked to include this in your cover letter.
- Print your cover letter on the same bond paper that you used for your résumé.
- Don't forget to sign your name at the end. Make sure to use either blue or black ink.
- Neatness counts! Proof well for typing or grammar errors and use only clean copies of your cover letter.
The staff in the Career and Internship Center are happy to provide assistance as you develop your cover letter and provide critical review as needed. Contact us!
Cover Letter Format Outline
City, State, Zip Code
Name of Individual
Title of Individual
Name of Organization
City, State, Zip Code
Dear Ms. / Mr. / Dr.________:
Opening Paragraph: Attract attention. Clearly state the reason for writing; name the position or type of work you are applying for. Identify how you heard about the opening, or how the employer’s name was obtained (i.e., Albion College Career and Internship Center; Professor Smith in the English Department at Albion College; etc.). Introduce your themes.
Second and Third Paragraphs: Outline your strongest qualifications that match the position requirements based on the themes you selected. As much as possible, provide evidence of your related experiences and accomplishments. Describe what you can do for the employer, rather than what they can do for you. Point out your specific achievements and unique qualifications that are relevant to the position. Try not to state information using the same words you used in the resume.
Fourth Paragraph: Suggest an action plan. Make reference to your enclosed resume and restate your interest by indicating your availability for a personal interview. Either suggest a time or state your willingness to come at the convenience of the individual employer.
Fifth Paragraph: Express appreciation to the reader for his or her time and consideration.
Sample Cover Letters
March 20, 2007
Ms. Nancy Edoff
1461 E. Twelve Mile Rd.
Madison Heights, MI 48071
Dear Ms. Nancy Edoff:
I am writing to apply for the Development Assistant position at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital advertised on the Albion College eRecruiting website. I am highly interested in working in the nonprofit sector, and believe my event planning, fundraising, and communication skills match what you are looking for in a candidate.
In addition to my Bachelor of Arts degree in Speech Communication, I have been an events planning intern at the XYZ Women’s Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan. My experience at XYZ taught me how to work with vendors, design promotional materials, and organize all aspects of events. I played a major role in organizing the yearly Walk for Women event, from contributing creative ideas to calling contacts and organizing events. This experience makes me well suited to execute development events for St. Jude.
My fundraising experiences also make me well qualified for this position. In addition to learning about the field of development while volunteering at three local nonprofit organizations, I have been the philanthropy chair for my sorority. This year my sorority raised money for a local women’s shelter. My creativity and knowledge helped me to create a fundraising campaign that has brought the most money to the shelter in years. Since fundraising is a significant part of the Development Assistant job, I would be well equipped to continue St. Jude’s fundraising success.
Finally, my communication skills will help me make a contribution to the St. Jude team. As a student assistant in the Albion College Communications Office, I wrote press releases everyday. These skills will allow me to clearly convey to potential donors the importance of supporting St. Jude.
I have enjoyed the nonprofit work I have done and find that it energizes me. I would like to bring my event planning, fundraising, and communication skills to the St. Jude Children’s Research team as the Development Assistant. Enclosed is my resume for your review and I am available at your convenience for an interview.
Thank you for your time in reviewing my materials. I look forward to speaking with you.
Mary A. Albion
900 Kellogg Center
Albion, MI 49224
April 8, 2011
Ms. Katherine Sorrel
1 Industry Drive
Hartford, CT 06152
Dear Ms. Sorrel:
Please consider my enclosed resume for the XYZ Leadership Development Program. Currently, I am a senior majoring in English at Albion College with a minor in Economics. The qualities I have to offer XYZ in this program include:
• Leadership skills: While a student at Albion, I co-founded a student organization aimed at increasing community service involvement campus-wide. Over the past three years, we have been able to generate a 32% increase in student participation and have made valuable contributions to the Albion community. I also served as a Resident Assistant to more than 100 first-year students while achieving a 3.5 GPA in my classes.
• Interpersonal skills: While working as an intern at XYZ Company, I was selected for the marketing strategy team that partnered to increase revenue by 41% and customer base by 20%. During the summer months, I volunteered for a local non-profit organization where I worked with clients from different cultures. Based on my contributions and commitment to the organization, I earned recognition as “Volunteer of the Month.”
•Analytical and quantitative skills: In a team-based business simulation, I continuously analyzed the market and our competition for a financial services firm throughout the semester. The professor acknowledged our final project as being “an outstanding example for future classes.” Last year, as an intern, I participated in a cross-functional team to assess a proposed business venture expanding customer product offerings.
XYZ is a long-time leader in providing full-service solutions. Through this approach, the company has continued to expand its client base and market position for more than 125 years. Specifically, your mission to help people lead healthier, more secure lives matches my own personal values and interests, as demonstrated through my community service efforts.
I am committed to adding value and contributing to XYZ’s global expansion. I am available at your convenience for an interview. Thank you in advance for your consideration. I look forward to speaking with you.