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Featured Article: Writing an Effective Cover Letter

by Lauren Meegan

Let’s face it; crafting a cover letter is difficult. Among other things, it requires patience, focus, and multiple drafts. While writing one is not how most people envision spending their precious moments of free time on a Saturday evening, a well-written cover letter can make the difference between whether or not you land an interview or a position. It gives the potential employer a better idea about who you are as a person, why they should hire you, and serves as a sample of your writing.  Cover letters have tremendous potential to help you and should be viewed as your best friend rather than as your worst enemy. The rest of this article discusses some of the most important tips for writing cover letters and hopefully will assist you on what can be a frustrating journey.

1. Be professional.
If you want to be considered a serious applicant then you should make sure that your cover letter is professional both in layout and tone. Regardless of whether you are submitting your resume online or in person, it should be professionally formatted. I typically recommend a business letterhead. I won’t discuss this format in detail but you can look up examples online and this resource is quite helpful as well: http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/549/03/. Your cover letter is also not the time to experiment with new fonts and colors. This is not Legally Blonde. Be consistent and stick with the aesthetic choices you made for your resume which hopefully were white or beige paper, black ink, and a clear professional font. In terms of tone, you should strive to be formal while still maintaining your own voice. This is a hard balance to achieve and you may have to pump out a few versions of your letter before you strike the right chord.

2. Do your research.
When you are applying for more than a dozen jobs it may be tempting to hand in the same cover letter and resume to every potential employer. This is a huge mistake. Similarly to your resume, your cover letter should be tailored to the job you are applying for. Therefore, you should make it apparent to the employer that you have researched the company as well as the position. This can be done in a variety of ways. Firstly, ensure that you are spelling the name of the company and the open position title correctly. Secondly, pay attention to what the position entails and what the employer is looking for in a candidate. For example, if it is a job in which you will crunch numbers and run statistical models and will likely have no interaction with people, then it shows inattention to detail if you spend the majority of your letter raving about your people skills and excellent customer service.

3. Don't simply reiterate what is in your resume.
A cover letter is not meant to be your resume in paragraph form, strung together with transitional phrases, and some punctuation sprinkled in. Rather, pick out a few specific areas of your resume to focus on. What you choose does not necessarily need to be your most recent job or the most “prestigious” internship. Instead you should choose your most relevant experiences. This also doesn’t mean that you need to talk about every single little thing you did in a previous experience. Rather, you should pick out detailed concrete examples that demonstrate why you are a great candidate and why the employer should hire you over anyone else. So in summary, be specific and go in-depth with your evidence.

4. Don't TELL them. SHOW them.
Anyone can say that they are the perfect candidate for a job but not everyone can back up this claim with concrete evidence. Employers want you to prove to them why they should hire you. Therefore, when writing your cover letter you should not just say that you have the ability to think critically and work in a group. Instead, you should give them a specific instance in your past in which you utilized those skills and possibly other ones as well! This is a far more effective way to go about marketing yourself.

5. This is not an epic, a moralistic tale, or an autobiography.
One of the main purposes of a cover letter is to prove why you are the best candidate for the job and should be hired over other applicants. Therefore, you should not belabor on your life story and how you stand so much to gain from whatever opportunity you are pursuing. The employer is well aware of what they are offering you. They want to know what you are going to bring to the table. It is also a mistake to devote the majority of your cover letter to professing your passion and love for a particular job or company.  You may feel like you have the most interesting story for what made you decide to pursue accounting but this is not the place for it. While making your interest and motivation for applying is important, this can be done in one to three lines and should in no way dominate your letter.

6. Point to the next step. 
Simply by turning in a resume and cover letter you are expressing interest in a position. However, effective cover letters take the time to point to what they hope the next step will be. This is usually an interview (on the phone or in person) but it can also be that you plan on calling or e-mailing them to check up on your resume. This means that you should include the best way to get in contact with you.

7. PROOFREAD. I cannot stress this enough. Your cover letter is a writing sample. Therefore, you should never send out an unedited version. Employers view blatant grammatical and spelling errors as signs of carelessness. So if your cover letter suffers from a failure to edit, you risk it being thrown out altogether. Apart from reading through it yourself, I suggest asking a few trustworthy people (friends, parents, professionals, etc.) to read it and give you feedback. While you mainly want their input on grammar and spelling, it also can be helpful to hear their feedback on how your cover letter comes across in terms of tone. 

These are just a few helpful tips to help you get started. If you have any other questions or want to get your resume/cover letter reviewed, which I highly recommend doing, come down and see an advisor at the ICC! Good luck!

Lauren Meegan, Student Advisor - Liberal Arts & Business
Internship and Career Center


Articles by Lauren Meegan

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