When writing a cover letter, keep the following two things in mind:
- Write it for the reader
- Connect the dots
The most common mistakes people make in writing cover letters is including every skill or quality (hoping something, anything captures the reader's attention) and writing it for themselves instead of tailoring the message to the reader. Secondly, people fail to connect their experiences and skill sets to what the employer has requested from applicants (as outlined in the job description).
While you might be tempted to create a generic letter that you send to every employer, don't. Each employer is unique and your cover letter can convey your understanding of the employer and the position for which you're applying. Remember, the employer can find more than one person with the skills they need for the job - what they have trouble finding is someone who is truly interested in the company and their position; an easy way to demonstrate that is to tailor your cover letter to the reader!
Anatomy of a Cover Letter
A cover letter is typically four, brief paragraphs in length. The challenge is to write something compelling using as few words as possible. The cover letter is meant to support your marketing document (your resume) but is also your opportunity to tailor your message to meet the employer's needs and capture their attention. Following is an outline of the four paragraphs with samples of each using the generic job description provided above.
A brief introduction of who you are and the opportunity to which you're applying (or, in the case of a cold letter, the opportunity you're seeking). If a person who has some relevance to the reader referred you, mention that person here (no name-dropping for the sake of name-dropping, please). This is also where you can demonstrate knowledge of the company or industry, presented in a compelling manner. This is not where you communicate how you would benefit from being employed by the company - the employer assumes you'll benefit by their employment - rather; mention how your skills might benefit the company.
As a recent graduate of Delaware Valley College with a major in XYZ and two years of internship experience in the XYZ industry (or company name), I was excited to see your recent advertisement on DelVal ExperienceLink for XYZ (position title). I possess the skills you've outlined in the description and have a strong interest in applying my skills to benefit the company.
Paragraph 2 & 3
Time to connect the dots between the job description and your experience. Analyze the description and review your outline of how you've demonstrated the skill sought.
During my recent internship with XYZ (company name) I worked closely with the Account Services team tasked with tracking customer satisfaction. I developed strong communication skills through my direct interaction with customers, conducting face-to-face and phone surveys. Additionally, I presented weekly updates to my manager and the team in both writing and during staff meetings. I received positive feedback from both customers and my manager and was recognized by my employer for my strong contributions to the team.
While working 20 hours per week I carried a full-time course load at Delaware Valley College and maintained a strong academic record, earning Deans List for two semesters. I developed strong organizational skills while in school allowing me to excel in my academics, my internship and participate in student organizations including A and B (organization names).
Close the letter with a summary and ask for an interview. Provide contact information (in case your resume and letter are separated) and mention follow up.
It is with great interest that I submit my resume for the position of XYZ and I would welcome the opportunity to discuss my experiences in more detail during an interview. I can be reached at 215-555-1234 (cell phone) or at firstname.lastname@example.org I look forward to hearing from you in the coming weeks.