Guide to Student Cover Letters February 2011
What is a Cover Letter? A cover letter is a way to expand on what is included on your resume: highlighting skills gained, attributes utilized, and passions developed, and then connecting them to a specific job or type of job. The cover letter illustrates how you are prepared, qualified, and motivated to take on the position. Therefore, you must always relate your experiences back to the position description to which you are applying.
Cover Letter Toolkit
Before beginning to write your cover letter, make sure that you have the following in front of you: • Your resume • Job/position description • Company/organization description • Any additional research you are able to conduct about the company and position, including information gathered from a current employee whom you can reference in your letter
Writing a Cover Letter
With all of your tools in hand, you are now ready to write your cover letter. To begin, carefully read the job description and do the following: • • •
Highlight specific elements of the job description that you have the skills and/or experience to do Underline all qualifications and note how you have attained them or why you would be able to develop them further Obtain the employer’s address and contact information. Be sure to follow the application instructions explicitly (e.g., include personal references or salary expectations if asked to do so).
Once you have a better understanding of the position and company, you may want to tweak your resume to highlight different aspects of your background that are most relevant. Consider the following when updating your resume for a specific position: •
Creating a new section: Depending on the job description, you can always consider adding a new section if you think it would be relevant to that employer. For example, you might add a section on volunteer experience if you’re looking for similar work now, and noting your language skills or travel history might matter at some times but not others.
Reality check: If the job description describes some task that you have done before or some qualification that you definitely have, double-check your resume. Is it on there? If not, make that change before sending out your resume!
Fine-tune existing sections: Your computer skills and interests section are always smart to crosscheck against the job description. If the employer is looking for a skill that you have, then it had better be listed on your resume! If you have any hobbies or interests that are relevant to an employer based on the job or industry, you absolutely want to mention those in your Interests section.
Now that you understand the position and organization better, you may begin writing your cover letter. Create an outline by doing the following: •
Compare your resume to the job description, and then do some brainstorming. Write down a list of all the ways that your experiences and skills might connect to that specific job description. This can require some creativity. If the company is looking for someone with good multitasking skills, for example, you really need to look over your experiences at work and school and think about where you best showed that quality. A waitressing job is definitely a great one to tout for multitasking, but you also could talk about juggling full-time school with a part-time job. If the job calls for responsibility, then experience with childcare or lifeguarding might deserve consideration.
Once you’ve listed five or ten possible experiences and skills, pick the best three to mention in your cover letter. At this point, you need to look at your list more critically. Which of these skills and experiences represent your strongest argument for getting hired? Which is a characteristic that you possess that other job candidates might be less likely to possess? For example, many teens could claim to have a good work ethic, but do you have great proof of it because you worked incredibly long hours doing tough work? That might be worth a mention. In general, hard skills—the ability to use computers or to do bookkeeping—are more powerful to emphasize than soft skills, when possible.
Select experiences from your resume that highlight your interest in and passion for the organization’s mission and work. Organizations want to hire people that will be good fits for their culture, and they also want employees who are as passionate about their work as they are. Making a connection between a past volunteer experience at a hospital and a paying position in a doctor’s office would be smart, for example. Spending time creating web pages or fixing the family computer might be good to mention if you’re looking for technology-related work or with a company that values computer skills.
When you have identified three compelling skills or experiences that hopefully differentiate you from other job seekers, then you’ve created what will become the heart of your cover letter. By a wide margin, this is the most important element that your cover letter will include. After a brief introductory paragraph, you’re going to help the employer connect the dots between what you can do and what they need to get done. The following page shows the format for an effective cover letter.
Cover Letter Format Date Employer’s name, Employer’s title Organization’s name Employer’s address Employer’s city, state, zip Dear Mr. or Ms. _________ Paragraph I (3‐5 sentences) • State your reason for writing and how you heard about the position. Identify the position or type of work that you are applying for. Paragraph II‐III (3‐4 sentences each) • State why you want to work for this employer or in this field, providing relevant examples of your interest and qualification. • Always relate your experience back to the position and mention each qualification from the position description. Paragraph IV (2‐3 sentences) • Thank them and indicate next steps. Provide contact info. Sincerely, Student name
April 1, 2011 Ms. Employer, Employer’s title ABC Company 1 Employer Street Boston, MA 01234 Dear Ms. Employer, I am writing in response to your posting on idealist.org for the Health Intern position. In June 2011, I will graduate from Boston Latin Academy and plan to undertake a healthcare‐ related internship for the summer. Because of my interest and demonstrated academic excellence in the natural sciences, I plan to follow a pre‐med track in college. I hope that my internship experience will allow me to contribute to a local organization while building my knowledge of this field. Your job description indicates that you are seeking someone with excellent communication skills, an ability to coordinate multiple tasks, and the interpersonal skills needed to build relationships with volunteers. Last spring, I coordinated a health fair on campus in which 20 organizations participated. This project gave me hands‐on experience and a better understanding of the needs of healthcare organizations. Additionally, my knowledge of biology, combined with the excellent writing skills acquired through my coursework, will help me to prepare interesting and informative programs and publications. Your agency plays a vital role in securing both professional and financial resources to help alleviate the suffering of others, and I would be proud to be a part of that mission. In my desire to make a difference in the Greater Boston community, I would welcome the opportunity to meet with you to discuss the intern position. I will call you next week to follow up on my application. Meanwhile, I may be reached at (617) 123‐4567 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you in advance for your consideration. Sincerely, Student name