Saturday, June 11, 2011

From Blank Page To Killer Cover Letter

A résumé alone isn't always enough. Your cover letter is an opportunity for you to tell your potential employers explicitly how your experiences and skills match up to the job you're applying for—and a chance to explain any unusual history you might have.

A successful cover letter is targeted and paints a clear picture why you are the best candidate for this role. After reading your letter, an evaluator should think: "this person's previous experiences make her a great candidate for this job, I want to learn more about her." You may be able to adapt a single cover letter to fit several similar jobs, but you should plan to write separate letters for jobs in different fields or different industries.

Here is a step by step guide to writing the letter:


  • Date the letter.
  • Write a formal salutation to your contact, the recruiter, or—if you can't find a contact name—the department.

    Paragraph 1

    • State what position you're applying for.
    • Describe—briefly—who you are. If you're working, name your current position and any higher education degrees you hold. If you're in school, name the degree you're earning and your expected graduation date.
    • Explain why you want to work at the company in one to two sentences. Is it the culture? Is it the product they create? Is it the work you want to do? Give compelling reasons, and show that you've researched the company.
    • Write one sentence that highlights three experiences that make you a great candidate for this job. You can balance this between work experience, extracurricular leadership roles, volunteer roles, and academic work. Make sure you choose experiences that are most relevant to this role, so you'll hook the reader and convince him or her to read more.

    Paragraph 2

    • Explain (in one sentence) your most relevant experience. Then highlight the skills you gained in this experience and any major accomplishments or successes, and be concrete. Be relevant, too: if you're applying to be a financial analyst, there's no point in talking about your Adobe Photoshop skills here!
    • If you have an unusual background—if your most relevant experience seems not that relevant at all—tackle it head-on. Acknowledge that you have a less traditional background, and then tell your evaluator why that background and the skills and perspective you'll bring are actually a strength.

    Paragraph 3

    • Highlight your second relevant experience, and different applicable skills that you learned from this second experience.
    • Do not regurgitate skills you talked about previously. Highlight different abilities and experiences and link them to the job description.

    Paragraph 4

    • Highlight your third relevant experience. Use this paragraph to demonstrate your well-roundedness as a candidate. This is where relevant course work, student leadership activities, and extracurricular activities should most likely be discussed.
    • Make sure that you emphasize how the skills you have developed would make you the ideal person for this role.

    Closing Paragraph

    • Finish strongly by articulating one more time how the three experiences make you a great candidate for this role.
    • Remind them why you want to work at their company.
    • End with a line about how excited you are about the possibility to join and make an immediate impact on the company.

    As a variation on this, you can also choose three skills (for example: communications skills, web analytics, project management) instead of three experiences, and structure your letter around these. This can be a good exercise: it forces you to think about what skills you're bringing to the table, and not just what your job description was in the past.

    Do's and Don'ts

    A few do's and don'ts to keep you on track to creating a stellar cover letter. Once you've written the letter, look through this list to make sure nothing's missing!

    Do write a compelling first paragraph

    Do include your name and the position you are applying for

    Do highlight your education and work that is most relevant to this position

    Do show that you know the industry and what is expected of you in the position

    Do have someone edit for grammar and spelling errors

    Don't use the same general cover letter for every job

    Don't make the letter longer than a page

    Don't be abstract about your abilities: site specific examples of your successes

    Don't regurgitate your résumé

    Don't waste words—every sentence counts!


    Author: Amanda Pouchot

    Amanda is a PYP Co-Founder and currently oversees promoting PYP to the world. She previously worked in the Organization Practice at McKinsey and Company where she dedicated her time to the women's leadership development movement. She's most interested in helping all young people, especially women, become the best personal and professional self they can be. A California native and UC Berkeley 2008 graduate, when not focusing on PYP, Amanda can be found outside - exploring New York, playing flag football in Central Park or pick up basketball with friends.

    Thanks to Pretty Young Professional


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