Résumés are useful in demonstrating your skills in a particular area, but unless you happen to be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company,a one page listing of your activities and previous employers does not suffice in painting the whole picture of you as an employee. Enter: the cover letter. Cover letters introduce a prospective hire and their resume to an employer. It is often the first document read in an application and even sometimes used to assess your writing proficiency and attention to detail. Thus, applying neat formatting and clear sentence structure is very important. We’re busy people, so we usually recommend having the letter in the body of your email instead of attaching it with your résumé. Here are some tips to help in crafting the perfect cover letter.
• Before you even begin to write a cover letter, obtain a description of the position for which you are applying. Use this in helping you connect your prior experiences to the demands of the job.
• Keep it short. Really short. Chances are an interviewer is receiving several replies to job/internship postings every day. They don’t have time to read your autobiography—cover letters should be one page, unless the posting or interviewer says otherwise.
• Start off with a header that includes your name, contact information, and the date. Personalize the header using different formatting tools in your word processor. However, always stick to standard fonts like Verdana or Times New Roman.
• Use the opening paragraph to explain who you are, how you found the company, and why this particular job is the next step of your career path—if you can’t answer that last one then you may want to rethink why you’re applying for this particular job/internship.
• Take a paragraph to explain your academic and professional background. This paragraph shouldn’t restate, but complement the information given on your resume. Go ahead, brag a little! Remember: a cover letter is supposed to show why you are a great fit for the firm; it is not used to explain away deficiencies you may think you have.
• In the last paragraph, discuss the ways you will contribute to the company. For example, if you were applying for a human capital consulting job and had experience as a team leader, you might close by saying “Directing a crew taught me to motivate teammates and to think strategically. I am confident I can use these skills in aligning XX’s human capital strategy with its business strategy.”
• Finally, end with a short salutation thanking the interviewer for taking the time to read your cover letter.
• Avoid using a template cover letter and simply replacing company names when you submit your applications. Take time to personalize the letter. Employers can tell if you’re just copying and pasting. The worst is if you forget to exchange a company name and you mention another company!
Sounds simple, right? Writing a cover letter is much easier said than done. It will probably take you several drafts to concisely and effectively explain why a company should hire you. Don’t worry, this is normal. Oh, and be sure to have someone else read your cover letter. You’d be surprised at what fresh eyes can catch. Good luck!