You recently graduated from college. You’re ready to enter the world of professional work. No more making lattes at Starbucks or working part time at Wal-Mart. You’re ready to join the ranks of salaried white-collar workers. Your resume is as good as it can be—some part time work here, an internship there. Your grades are good and you graduated in the top third of your major.
Now comes the hard part—the cover letter. What to say? What to include? Landmines to avoid. It all comes down to three or four paragraphs. The difference between your phone ringing and the sound of crickets. Some suggestions to make that phone ring:
Keep in mind that a cover letter backs up what your resume says about you. Not in terms of regurgitating what’s in your resume, but how skilled you are in communicating important information in a concise and persuasive manner. This is something you’ll be doing day in and day out in emails, memos, reports and presentations. So if you can’t do it in three or four paragraphs of a cover letter, what chance do you stand in preparing professional business communications?
Adhere to the three-paragraph cover letter format. The first paragraph is all about generating interest. It’s the grabber that should explain the position you’re applying for and why you're applying for it. Remind the reader how you heard of the job opening. If you know someone in the company—someone you may have met at a job fair, trade show or seminar, include their name. End this paragraph with what you’ve included in your job application—resume, samples, references (if the employer asked for them at this initial stage).
The second paragraph should explain your interest in the position. You should back this up with some complimentary information you gleaned about the company and how that dovetails with you career goals. Here you can capsulize your skills, qualifications and any internships that relate to the position being offered. Use power words to describe your achievements.
The third or closing paragraph is where you “ask for the order.” You request an interview or meeting—something that takes the selection process to next level. Your goal here is to “remove all barriers to purchase.” The reader should know exactly what you want them to do next—best time to call you, email you, best phone number to use, etc.
Close your cover letter by by reminding the reader how eager you are to work for the company and how an entry level position would meet your long term career goals.
Got some cover letter stories or suggestions of your own? Include them in the comments section below.