You finally found the perfect job listing, that wants the exact skills you have and is willing to compensate you well for it. As you go through the application process, you encounter the dreaded words ‘cover letter’. Not just an application and a resume but also a cover letter. Where in the world should you even begin? Fret not, we are here to train you in the art of cover letter writing!
What is a cover letter and how is it different from a resume?
The term resume comes from a French word résumé, which means a summary. So, a resume is a brief description of your educational background, professional experience, skills, and achievement.
A cover letter, on the other hand, is a short document that is used to elaborate on your intent for applying to the job, particular skills, experience, and achievements that make you the right fit. So, you can pick out one to two scenarios that are relevant to the job and write about it in greater detail. This can help hiring managers in painting a complete picture of a candidate and can be especially useful if you are switching careers. It will also show you stand out when you are competing against candidates with similar qualifications.
While it may seem like an uphill battle to write a cover letter, it can truly help you in securing an interview if done right. So, let’s get on with it.
How to write a cover letter?
Like stories, each cover letter consists of an introduction, body, and conclusion. Let’s find out how to nail each section!
Cover letter introduction and opening paragraph
The introduction consists of the greeting and first paragraph.
Always address your cover letter to a specific person. You can do this by scouring LinkedIn or Google for the name of the hiring manager or head of the department you are applying to. If the powers of the internet fail you, address it to the department you are applying to. Do not write ‘To Whom It May Concern’ unless you want to come off as a robot.
Next step is writing the opening line. You could simply start with stating the position you are applying for and the company name. For example,
Dear hiring manager / head of the department name,
I am excited to apply for the position of data analyst at Dexter’s Laboratory. With a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science and a four-month internship experience in data analysis at Uber, I believe that I would bring valuable skills to the table.
If you want to go for a more engaging opener, you can write about why the company resonates with you, which can include a small anecdote about using their products or services. You can also scan the company website, press releases, and other media presence to understand what strikes a chord with you.
When I was 10, I went to the World Book Fair for the first time with my brother. While he was spending time reading synopsis of books, I was picking up one book after another based on the most attractive cover. I finally settled on Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and ended up devouring all books in the series. I followed this interest in judging a book by its cover by pursuing a bachelor in Design, being the creative head for my college magazine, and now applying for the position of graphic designer at Scholastic.
Alternatively, you can write about how your interests and accomplishments have led you towards applying for this role.
During my last internship in social media marketing at Otter Pvt. Limited, I conceptualized three marketing campaigns, which increased the engagement rate by 25% and led to a spike of 15% in website traffic. I believe that the skills I have gained in this role make me the right fit for the position of Social Media Marketing Associate at Orange.
The tone of the opening paragraph will depend on the company that you are applying to. If the company is more on the conservative side such as an accounting firm, maintain a formal tone. If you are applying to a startup, you can have some fun, and use the language that they have used in the job description.
Cover letter body
This is the part where you dig deeper (succinctly) into the roles you have mentioned in your resume. Knock them off their feet with your accomplishments! Wondering how to do that?
Begin with reading the job description thoroughly and see which key skills does the job require. It’s more likely that these will be mentioned in the beginning. You can also find out which desired skills you possess. Now that you have a fair idea of the key requirements, think of your main accomplishments that demonstrate them. Easier said than done? Let’s find out how we can make it less exhausting.
Think about your performance reviews during your internships and recollect areas where you shone. Even better if you can back it up with data. For example, did you increase the readership of a blog by 15%? That’s awesome, put that down!
During my stint as a content writer at Espresso Times, I experimented with different kinds of content such as SEO articles, infographics, Q & As, and videos. I analysed the performance of each type and made changes accordingly to increase the readership of their blog by 15%.
If you don’t have internship experience, rack your brains for the accomplishments during extracurricular activities. Did you lead a college society? This could demonstrate your soft skills like communication and leadership. You can mention a key event that you orchestrated. For example,
As the vice-president for Enactus, I oversaw the annual inter-college meet. This included getting in touch with leaders in the social entrepreneurship industry for the speaker’s session, ideating competition ideas, marketing the event on social media, and making arrangements for 20 Enactus teams from across the state.
You can also include any educational achievements or any projects that might be relevant to the job.
For my final semester project, I built a machine learning model that used supervised learning to detect the temperature in a room.
You should also use this space to convey how you plan to use your skills in your work at the company. You can research about any issues that the company is trying to address and come up with ideas that can resolve it.
As a web designer with your company, I would use these skills to create website designs that incorporate your brand elements and is optimised for all devices.
Now that you have told the hiring manager why the job should be yours, let’s learn about writing the parting note.
For the conclusion, you can keep it simple and straightforward. You can thank them and request an interview or a meeting.
I would welcome the chance to speak more about this opportunity and share how I can contribute.
Thank you for your time.
Do’s and don’ts
What to include in the cover letter?
1. Contact details – Imagine writing the perfect cover letter and never finding out whether they liked it because you forgot your contact details. So, write your name, email address, contact number (not numbers), and date at the top left of the document. Make sure that your email address isn’t unprofessional (we are looking at you, email@example.com).
December 10th, 2020
2. CTA – While ending the cover letter, tell the hiring manager what you want them to do. You can request an interview or a meeting.
3. Enthusiasm for the job/organisation – You may have all the requisite skills, but so might the other candidates. What can really set you apart is your enthusiasm for the role or company. Mention what aspects of the job make you feel eager to join. However, don’t overdo it like you are at your favourite band’s concert.
4. Customization – Each job description comes with a different set of requirements and each company has a different culture, so make sure you customize your cover letter. Rather than sending out generic emails for any job, narrow down on jobs that you really want and make time to write cover letters that reveal your personality and enthusiasm.
5. Conciseness – Once you have written your cover letter, take some time to edit. Eliminate everything that’s repetitive and make sure that your cover letter length does not exceed one page and 250-300 words.
What to skip in the cover letter?
1. Clichéd phrases – Avoid writing overused phrases like fast learner and hard working. Instead use action words such as led, designed, developed, conceptualized, etc. that show these qualities in action.
2. Overly formal tone – Very formal tone can give the impression that you picked out a cover sample off the internet. It can also make it difficult to read your letter. To find out which words or sentences can be rewritten for easier readability, you can use the Hemingway Editor.
3. Narrating your resume – Make sure that your cover letter isn’t a longer version of your resume. Think about the highlights during your internships or extracurricular activities that relate to the job and give insights about them.
4. Improper formatting – Use consistent formatting throughout the letter and use a font that’s easy to read such as Arial or Calibri.
5. Typos and common grammatical errors – Once you have done the lion’s share of the work by writing the letter, make sure that typos or bad grammar don’t ruin your masterpiece! Even if all seems in order, run it through Grammarly or ask a friend to review it for you.
Now that we have covered what to write in a cover letter, go and write one! If you are still looking for jobs, then you can check out fresher jobs on Internshala (and then get back to writing!)