Although cover letters often receive a bad rap, they’re a lot less intimidating than people realize. What’s the difference between a resume, CV, and cover letter? A resume focuses on your employment history, CV’s are centered around academic achievements, and cover letters are a brief writing sample translating your experience for the employer in terms of this position. As the academic year comes to a close, it’s time to stop stressing about the dreaded cover letter and clarify some common questions. Use these tips to ace those applications and score those Summer jobs and internships.
How to Format
Ever wondered why your cover letter looks more like an essay than a job application? Two simple formatting things you can do for yourself are following business letter format and including a letterhead.
For cover letters, business letter format means including a colon after the salutation (not a comma!), single spacing, adding a full space between paragraphs, and aligning text to the left without indentations.
Step two is including a header (your contact and personal information) and letterhead (the hiring manager’s information). Letterheads should contain the name and position of the hiring manager, name and address of the company, and date of submission all indicated on separate lines. Pro tip: check company websites, Google, or LinkedIn for the name of the Hiring Manager. If you can’t find this, “selection committee” or “Hiring Manager” can be used in its place.
Don’t forget to include a nice closing and your full name at the bottom!
Framing the Content
One of the biggest cover letter blunders is focusing on what the employer can offer you instead of what you can offer the employer. Writing a cover letter is an opportunity to translate your past experience for the employer, highlighting transferable skills and showing why you would be an asset to their team. Doing some research and demonstrating knowledge of the company is one way to show your excitement and dedication to the position and organization. Hiring managers don’t need to hear what you have to gain from this position, they want to know why your skillset is essential to them.
Skills and Experience
In your body paragraph(s), feature specific examples of experiences where you have learned and utilized skills directly applicable to the position you are applying for. Because cover letters are inherently tailored, it’s impossible to write a good one without building it around the company and job description. Sorry, no general cover letters!
This is not a place to restate your resume; only the most highly applicable experiences should be incorporated in order to keep it brief and concise. There is a place for both soft and hard skills within these experience descriptions, each of which should be mentioned in the methods of how your tasks were accomplished and what you learned from them.
Cover letters can be tedious to write, but they become less so once thought of as an opportunity. You have full control over how the employer interprets your experience in the context of this job, so take advantage of that! If nothing else, minimal “I” statements, varied sentence structure, and proper grammar offer the hiring manager a solid writing sample in support of your communication skills. Happy writing and good luck!