Demystifying Cover Letters: Tips and Tricks on How to Craft a Great Cover Letter

By Shannon Antonio ‘23, Peer Career Assistant, Center for Career Development

One of the most challenging parts of the job application process is writing an effective cover letter.

As a Peer Career Assistant (PCA) at the Center for Career Development (CCD), many students have shared with me that they are often scared to apply to jobs that require a cover letter. In fact, this is not an uncommon occurrence. During my drop-in hours, I regularly advise students on how to write an effective cover letter. So, today I would like to share with you my tips and tips for writing a great cover letter.

What is a cover letter and why is it important?

A cover letter is a one-page document that is addressed to the hiring manager of the company you are applying for. This is your chance to elaborate and highlight your experiences that make you a good fit for the job you are applying for. In other words, a cover letter should accompany and illuminate your resume! I always tell my peers during drop-in hours that a cover letter is an extension of your resume, so allow yourself to highlight specific examples and skills that you have gained in the past that make you stand out.

Now, why are cover letters important? Like a resume, your cover letter should highlight your qualifications and act as a means to obtain an interview with your desired employer. Additionally, your cover letter should showcase your motivation and demonstrate how your experiences directly relate to the specific job you are pursuing.

When given the option to write a cover letter, ALWAYS submit one.

What does a cover letter look like?

The format of a cover letter consists of three parts. The first part is the opening paragraph. The main purpose of the first paragraph is to introduce yourself and tell the employer why you are writing. Your opening sentence sets the stage for the whole cover letter. As such, you want to grab the hiring manager’s attention by using positive language and being hyper-relevant to the job you’re applying for. You want to ensure that you demonstrate your excitement for the position with the specific company. Ask yourself what about this particular company draws your attention and what about THEM makes you want to apply? Here, you could include the organization’s mission statement, any awards they have received, or anything that motivates you to join this organization or company.

The second paragraph is where you can tell your employer your story. Describe your experience and qualifications that make you a strong candidate for the position. Make sure that you highlight specific examples from academic, work, volunteer, and/or co-curricular activities. Rather than simply listing your skills, make sure to elaborate on specific experiences that make you a qualified applicant. Connect your accomplishments, skills, and knowledge directly to the type of position, organization, and or field you are applying for. When I work with students during drop-in hours, I always ask them to pull up the job posting to help them think about how their past experiences have prepared them for the skills and responsibilities that employers are looking for. Another tip is to avoid rewriting details that are already outlined on your resume. Focus on key experiences and accomplishments that directly relate to the position you are applying for.

The last paragraph is where you thank the employer for their time and consideration. Here, you can also leave your contact information such as your phone number or email address.

Now that you know the format for cover letters, let’s talk about some helpful hints. First, customize each cover letter you write. When writing cover letters, it is important that you don’t use the same cover letter for each job you apply for. Instead, start from scratch and personalize each cover letter you write. Another tip I have is to do your research! It’s helpful to know something about the organization’s products, services, missions, or values as this demonstrates your interests and dedication. Lastly, write well. I know it may sound simple, but employers will pay attention to proper grammar, spelling, style and coherence of thought. Remember, this is your first impression to employers, so you want to make sure you proofread your cover letter and don’t be afraid to read it out loud as well!

I hope that after reading this cover letters don’t seem as scary as you may have thought! After writing your first cover letter, they always get easier. If you ever need help on cover letter writing, visit the CCD during our drop-in hours!