Tuesday, July 29, 2014

How to: Write a Cover Letter

What is a cover letter?
    According to about. com, a cover letter is "a document sent with your resume to provide additional information on your skills and experience."
    According to the employer to which this letter will be submitted, a cover letter is your chance to introduce yourself and expand on your resume. Unlike writing a resume, writing a cover letter allows one to greater express her individual personality. Not only is the cover letter a great opportunity to convince your employer of your enthusiasm and skill-set, but cover letters also showcase your ability to write, a valuable skill in nearly every industry. Even if you're not the best with words, a cover letter can simply act as proof that you are a competent human being and can encourage the company that you are the best candidate for the job. 

How to Write a Cover Letter

basics and formatting:
1. Cover Letter Basics
  • One page (Do not write exceed one page)
  • 1" margins
  • Times New Roman, Times, or Arial font
  • Size 10, 11, or 12
  • Align all text to the left
2. The Anatomy of a Cover Letter

Your street address
City, State Zip Code


Contact Name 
Street Address
City, State Zip Code

 Dear Mr/Ms. ________: [or, To Whom it May Concern/ Director of Human Resources if a name is unavailable]

First Paragraphs: (single-spaced)

Middle Paragraphs: (single-spaced)

Last Paragraph: (single spaced)

(Signature here)

Your typed name

paragraph by paragraph

3. How to Write an Introduction
  1. Pique your reader's interest (see tip below)
  2. Name the position and how you became aware of the opportunity (if you were referred by someone or networked with someone relevant to your employer, mention that person's name)
  3. Reveal your knowledge of how you would fit within the unique environment of the employer and industry
  4. Finish as if you were writing a thesis for the rest of the letter: cite the specific highlights of the body paragraphs you will discuss in greater detail
3a. How to Initially Reel in Your Readers
    Many people stick with the generic introduction:

      To Whom is May Concern:
      Please consider me to be a candidate as a writer for Fancy Fashion Magazine. I would love to work with others who share my perspective on fashion and a love of couture. I strong believe I am a perfect match for Fancy Fashion. 

    While introductions such as the one above work, cliches such as "I would be a good match" or "I believe in your company's vision" are generic.

       Dear Mr. Taco:
       It is with great interest that I am applying as an editorial writer for Fancy Fashion Magazine. When Jennifer Hernandez from Fancy Fashion's wardrobe recommended me for this opportunity, I knew I had to take it. Ever since Fancy Fashion's article on African Couture in 2008, my big binder of writing inspiration, nearing the size of a tome, has become dominated by your magazine's stunning pieces on global fashion. I admire Fancy Fashion's values such as promoting global style awareness and showcasing both the designs of the infamous and avant-garde as well as bringing new designers onto the fashion scene. It would be incredible to be a component of your magazine, and I have the organizational, creative, and writing skills to create fashion-conscious, engaging content, while still retaining the integrity of your brand. 

This advice was based on Jenny Foss' book Ridiculously Awesome Resume. See more samples here: Bad Pick-up Lines: They Don't Work in Bars, They Don't Work in Cover Letters https://www.themuse.com/advice/bad-pickup-lines-they-dont-work-in-bars-they-dont-work-in-cover-letters

4. How to Write Your Middle Paragraphs
  1. Build a connection between the company's needs and the skills you posses (aim to present yourself as the "perfect/ best candidate")
  2. You don't have to follow a 3-paragraph model
  3. Provide concrete examples that outline your specific qualifications, skills or accomplishments that match the job description
  • extracurriculars
  • work experience
  • key aspects of  your resume (do not restate resume descriptions)
  • relevant personal qualities that may not be obvious from resume 
4a. Don't list, relate
    Don't just list relevant experiences. That's what your resume's for. Focus on relating the values of the company to your personal values. Relate skills you showcased during experiences to the skills required for the job. Expand on your most integral, relevant experiences. 

4b. Be Specific 
    What experiences have you had that are both unique and gave you relevant skills for the position?
For my most recent job application, some skills potential candidates should possess included:
  • literacy in Photoshop and Illustrator
  • ability to receive feedback
  • creativity
  • ability to work with a group
  • ability to work with deadlines

"From my FSEM (First Year Seminar), Creativity in the Digital Age, I learned the skills necessary to adopt Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator as tools for future artistic projects. Within the month during which my professor introduced these programs, I quickly became well-versed in both. I received a lot of valuable feedback which truly helped improve my ability to produce neat, innovative, and well-organized designs. This semester, I have employed these skills in designing posters for on-campus organizations, such as the SGA and College Republicans. My clients and I collaborated and worked on revising the designs until every detail of each poster was in place well before our deadlines."

Also, research the company. The more specific details you include (relevant details, of course!) the more the company knows you did your homework.

4c. Use Strong Verbs

Before, my cover letter read, "As the president of San José Friends, I gained my ability to lead." However, a friend who edited believed "showcased" would be a stronger verb. Now, the sentence implies that I already had leadership skills and now, they are even stronger!

"As the president of San José Friends, I showcased my ability to lead."

Check out UC Berkeley's Guide (page 6 pdf, 27 pamphlet) for a nifty verbs list: https://career.berkeley.edu/guide/resumeletterwriting.pdf

4d. Don't explain what the employer can do for you. Explain what you can do for them!
    Of course that company will have a lot of skills and opportunites to offer to you. However, they know what they have to offer. Now, it's your job to encourage your potential employer that you will be an asset to their team. 

5. How to Conclude
  • Restate your desire for the job.
  • Request an interview and tell him/her you will follow up to discuss a possible time to meet
  • Include your contact info (phone number and email). 
  • Close by thanking the employer.
"I will be available to work up to 20 hours a week this coming summer and would welcome the opportunity to meet with you to discuss the possibility of interning there. I will follow up on this letter in a week to see if we can set up a time. Thank you very much for your attention." 

overall tips:

6. Don't send generic cover letters 
    As stated before, specific details show how much you care about this opportunity, and a tailored description of skills will make you seem like a perfect candidate for this specific opportunity. 

7. Be concise
     You have a page and no more. Make the most out of this space. As stated above, use concrete evidence to show that you are a strong candidate for this position, but do not be superfluous. Be direct and straightforward.
8. Show your personality 
    Be genuine and be yourself. Even though I just advised you not to be superfluous, make sure that your cover letter sounds like you. People enjoy reading cover letters that sound more "human" than "robotic." Think of it this way, your in-person interview is the movie, and  your cover letter is the movie trailer. After reading your cover letter, will your employer feel inclined to meet you in person? If your voice on paper comes off as engaging, enthusiastic, and memorable, you'll make a better impression on your potential employer and start off on the right foot during the interview.

9. Proofread
    Ask a friend, family member, roommate, boyfriend, counselor, etc. to help your proofread. They'll help catch things like:

  • contractions
  • missing articles (I don't know how many times I've missed "a")
  • parallel structure
  • tenses 
  • weak verbs
  • etc.

Sources and More Helpful Tips:
7 Cover Letter Mistakes That Will Sink You 
Bad Pick-up Lines: They Don't Work in Bars, They Don't Work in Cover Letters
Purdue OWL Cover Letter Workshop: Formatting and Organization
My School's Cover Letter Guide

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