Posts filed under Cover Letter

Job Search Toolkit: Cover Letters - Your Secret Weapon


With classes starting for many universities over the next week, recruiting season will be in full swing in a few short weeks.  For post-graduates, late summer and early fall is a great time to search for jobs as it represents the start of a new fiscal year and new staffing budgets for many companies, meaning that there are more jobs being actively recruited right now.  In addition to updating your resume, it's important to craft a cover letter for every job application.

Your cover letter is like the socket wrench of your job search toolkit.  It customizes your application and helps explain to a potential employer how you "fit" a number of different jobs.  In my professional experience, candidates who take the time to draft a well-written cover letter confirm the following for me: they have strong written communication skills, they go beyond the requirements to make a strong first impression, and they are attentive to details.  These are three qualities I look for in any candidate, regardless of the job.

A well-written cover letter accomplishes the following in thee to four paragraphs: 

  1. Explains your interest and unique qualifications in a particular job or company
  2. Highlights specific accomplishments and your unique value as it relates to the fundamental job requirements
  3. Confirms specific (and proactive) next steps as it relates to the application/interview process

Done correctly, cover letters are challenging to write but well worth the extra effort because they help the reader understand your unique value relative to  other applicants.  A well-crafted cover letter is especially important in instances of high competition or where you may not have the exact background or qualifications for a role.  In the former, a cover letter will set you apart and articulate your passion for and value provided to the company relative to all the other candidates.  This is critical when companies receive hundreds or thousands of applications for a job and are sifting through candidates trying to decide who to bring in for interviews solely based on pieces of paper.  In the latter situation, a cover letter can help describe how your background experience is transferable to a different industry or function; for example, maybe your first job was as a business analyst for a brick and mortar retail company and you’re interested in a project management position for an internet-based food retailer.  While your title might have been an analyst and the company may be traditional brick and mortar, maybe you had some project management responsibilities in your analyst job that could easily get lost in a brief sweep of your resume.  Perhaps you were also involved in establishing the retailer’s website and introduction to online sales, and were instrumental in setting up and tracking a sales dashboard with KPIs that you used to present to management and draw conclusions on the website strategy.  While these are great examples to put on your resume in your accomplishment statements, it’s even more important to highlight these topics on your cover letter.  Think of your cover letter like an executive summary of your resume, helping the reader understand the relevance and significance of these experiences as it relates to their company.

The ten items below will help as you craft your cover letters.  For additional insight, you can reference sample cover letters here, download a cover letter template here, and learn about expert coaching services on the Career Resources & Services Page.

Top 10 Cover Letter Tips

  1. Always include a cover letter with a job application.

  2. Keep the length to one page and three to four paragraphs.  Your reader will likely have a lot of applicants to sift through, so conciseness is key.

  3. Use proper formatting, with the date and addresses of the sender and recipient at the top of the letter.

  4. Highlight your interest in the industry and company in the opening paragraph, using research to articulate an understanding of the organization and their industry.

  5. Avoid describing how the company will fulfill your lifelong dreams and instead on how you can channel your passion to add value for the company.

  6. Describe two to four accomplishments that directly qualify you for the job.  Reference the job description to understand the most important skills or qualifications for that particular job, and then highlight your specific experiences.  For example, if the job requires strong project management skills, you might have a dot point list with "Project Management" listed and an example of your abilities.

  7. Be confident! Do not include statements like “if you feel that I am qualified for the job, please call me at…”.  Never invite the reader to question your ability to do the job.

  8. Close the letter with a statement about next steps, noting that if you have not heard back by a particular date that you will reach out to their Human Resources department via phone.  

  9. Note at the bottom that your resume is enclosed with your cover letter.

  10. Always customize every cover letter, even if you are applying to companies in the same industry.  While it is easy to search and replace keywords, these tactics are obvious to a reader and pose too great a risk for error.

Before finalizing your cover letter, ask your family, friends, or an expert to review the content and provide feedback.  This could be someone in your University career services department, a peer with solid resume and cover letter experience, a parent or experienced colleague, or, best of all, an expert.  An expert will take the time to understand and articulate your story, help you put it on paper, and review everything with a critical eye to eliminate the risk of errors.  

Best of luck and happy interviewing!

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