Advisor Guest Blogger: Conquering the Cover Letter

Searching for jobs and internships can be a time-consuming feat for many, and when it comes down to writing that dreaded cover letter, many job seekers look for shortcuts to get them where they want to be. That being said, when people pay less attention to their cover letter, what that indicates to an employer is that they’re not willing to put the time and effort into a task that could land them a position. Is that the type of person that you would want to hire?

When I work with students, I sometimes see woeful looks sweep across their faces when I utter the words, “separate cover letters,” to which I reply, “it’s not that bad–let me give you the bullet points.”

In preparing to write a cover letter, I’ve devised “bullet points” that can be used to lessen the burden of writing specific and tailored documents for varying positions.

  • No more than a page. Be creative in your efforts to be concise.
  • No more than four paragraphs. Four paragraphs minimizes the fatigue a reader may have when combing through stacks of letters.
  • Introductory Paragraph – 1.) Position title/name, 2.) Source/referral (i.e., how did you learn about the position?), 3.) BRIEFLY why or what interests you in the organization/position (no more than a sentence), and a 4.) culminating thesis statement; a preamble to what you hope to discuss.
  • Body Paragraph #1 – Tell me a story. Rather than tell me the skills that you’ve obtained, show me by telling me about a time when you’ve used relevant skills. What is the problem? What were you charged with? What did you do as a result of those charges? How does it relate to the position or organization?
  • Body Paragraph #2 – Pick a different skill set and repeat steps for Body Paragraph #1 OR assert your knowledge of the organization and tell me about what has piqued your interest in the type of work.
  • Concluding Paragraph – Keep it brief and simple. Reiterate your interest in the work and always include preferred method of contact (i.e., email and/or phone number), even if it’s in your heading.

In considering the countless cover letters that I have reviewed over the past several years, I want to draw light upon two common issues that I see in folks’ cover letters. They are as follows:

The cover letter includes too many examples.

  • When crafting your thesis statement and two body paragraphs, strive only to discuss 2-3 examples or skills. The risk associated with including too many examples or skills is that in doing so, you overwhelm the reader. Rather then explain to me the 50-thousand things that you do or have done, isolate two or three examples and tell me a story that I can remember.

The body paragraphs are too general and do not give enough detail.

  • The risk associated with being too general is that your cover letter will not be memorable among the stack of 200 candidates. As I mentioned before, tell me about a time when you’ve had to use that skill or knowledge set (with clear beginning, middle, and end), and I’ll be much more likely to remember you.

 Jesse Wingate is an Assistant Director and career advisor in the Office of Alumni and Career Services. While he works with all students and alumni, he specializes in the industry areas of healthcare and the sciences. 

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