Summer is almost here—and whether you’re hunting down that perfect internship or applying for your first “real” job, there’s an often overlooked and extremely important component of the candidate- screening process you need to know about: the cover letter.
“Your cover letter can be the difference between whether or not you’ll move forward in the interview process,” said Julie Janik, Director of the University of Dallas’ Office of Personal Career Development. “It can give you a chance to explain your experience in a way your resume cannot.”
With that in mind, here are 5 tips for writing the perfect cover letter.
Don’t make it all about you
Janik says that the cover letter shouldn’t be about why you want the job but, instead, why the employer should want you: “The cover letter should be 3-5 paragraphs that explain why you are the right candidate for the position.” Never start a sentence with any variation of “I want this job because…” The bulk of the content should focus on what you would bring to the specific position, not what you hope to gain from it.
Don’t use a template
Templates (especially the ones you find online) are overused; most recruiters can spot them from afar. Janik suggests staying away from them, including the ones you’ve made for yourself to streamline the job hunt: “I’ve seen many students use the same template over and over and then forget to change the name of the company. That’s an automatic disqualifier.” She says it’s worth it to take the time to write every cover letter you submit from scratch.
Make it personal, but not too personal
In the same way that a template feels formulaic, describing yourself as a “hard worker with critical thinking skills” without spelling out results to back up your claim will make your cover letter sound generic. Janik says that if most people in the room can make the same claims as you (i.e., “I have a great work ethic” or “I’m a leader”), you are not being specific enough: “Stay away from the generic fluff and use examples instead.” On the flipside, there is no reason to go into detail about your family life or your childhood unless it explains a direct tie to the job or company. For example, you could mention that you became interested in finance because your mother is a financial planner, or that you want to be a camp counselor because summer camp was the highlight of your childhood.
Don’t rehash your resume
Instead of rehashing the experience and accomplishments you listed on your resume, use your cover letter to address how those accomplishments apply to the specific job description. “The employer listed the position because they have a need,” Janik said. “And it’s up to you to connect the dots between what they need and what you have.” Bridging that gap between yourself and what the employer wants is especially important when your major or experience may not seem directly related to the job description. Spell it out in your cover letter.
Make a follow-up plan
“You should always end your cover letter with a specific plan for follow up,” Janik said. If you have a contact name and phone number for the position, indicate that you will call that person in one week to follow up. If you do not have a phone number, indicate that you will follow up by email. If you have no one specific to contact, write that you are looking forward to hearing back from the organization. And then make sure to follow up as you have indicated.
If you have any questions about cover letters or resumes or need help finding a job or internship, come by Augustine 132 or email the Office of Personal Career Development.