Writing an Effective Cover Letter

1. What preparation should students do before they begin writing a cover letter? 

Cover letters should be catered to specific jobs and specific employers. Before writing a cover letter, students should think about the job that they want and what makes them best qualified for that position. In order to do this, they need to research the company and research the job to find out where they are able to pull out their strengths to match the company’s need. The better they are able to connect to the job and the company, the more impactful the cover letter will be. Before they start the process, if their school has a Career Services office, they should definitely visit that office and see what help can be provided.

2. What is the most important message a cover letter should or should not express?

The cover letter should first off mention the position you are applying for. The most important thing to express is why you believe that you are the best candidate for the position. What skills do you possess that make you qualified? What would you bring to that company that no one else can? You need to relay to the person reviewing the cover letter why they should bring you in for an interview. You should never talk about salary requirements or other benefits in your cover letter.

3. What should the language/grammar in a stand out cover letter look like?

Most assuredly, the language in your cover letter should be professional; this is not the time or place to write like people do today – no LOLs or hashtags. Employers like to see several short paragraphs explaining what you are applying for, why you are applying, and what makes you a great candidate. Be somewhat brief and to the point. However, too little information will not supply enough to the employer and too much information will cause the employer to not want to read the letter. Your best bet would be to go with three to five short paragraphs, each consisting of about three to four sentences. You will also want to make sure your font is not too large or too small. Something like Times New Roman in 11 or 12 point font is preferable.

4. What are three major things a student should avoid doing in writing a cover letter? 

Never mention salary in a cover letter. While you’re at it, never mention other items like, “I can’t work nights or weekends.” This is your time to sell yourself to an employer and no employer wants to hear what you won’t do. Don’t include too much personal information; keep your cover letter professional. You can get a little more personal in an interview, but you won’t get that interview if your cover letter doesn’t knock it out of the park. It’s probably also smart to not speak badly about your current employer or any previous employment. The employer will see that as typical for you and if you talk badly about other employers, they may assume you’ll do the same about them.

5. How should students address the company in a stand out cover letter? 

This is where the previously mentioned research comes in extra handy. The better you are able to understand what the employer does and what they are looking for, the better you will be able to craft the cover letter. Talk to them as a potential employee, but the language shouldn’t be too familiar or colloquial. Be professional and address the company in a way that sells the services you provide.  Mention what makes you the best candidate and how you fulfill that company’s need.

6. Do you have any other crucial tips in writing a cover letter that will help students land the internship/job?

The whole job search process is based upon your self-branding. Just like all companies today have marketing plans and branding for their products/services, so should you. The cover letter and resume are your first step in the branding process. You need to sell the employer on you as a potential employee and you should definitely answer the question, “Why should I hire you?” Another safe bet is to always have someone proofread or review your cover letter; there’s nothing worse than sending a resume that has spelling and grammatical errors. Another set of eyes will help you to determine if your cover letter does the trick. If your school has a Career Services department, you should visit them to find out if they have any cover letter templates or other best practices. The Career Services department can help you with any facet of the job search process.

About the Author:

Sam A. Mannino is the director of Career Services at Sullivan University’s Louisville campus. Prior to his current position, Sam was the director of Career Services at Sullivan College of Technology and Design. He has a background in education and workforce development and worked for nine years at Greater Louisville Inc. – the Metro Chamber of Commerce.

When not at Sullivan, Sam likes to read, travel when he can and most importantly spend time with family and friends, including his pug, Tori.

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