Conquering the Cover Letter

Among my friends I’m known as somewhat of a Cover Letter guru. It’s not that I write the greatest cover letters, or that my friends even know how to tell my cover letters from an inter-office memo, its simply the fact that I am one of the only people who knows what a cover letter actually is.

Somehow, many people get to their junior or senior year without having to attempt the best that is a CL. Since thanks to an alternative high school program, I’ve been interning since before I could drive, I seem to be the winner of the knowledge lottery. Hence, I figured I would write up some suggestions I give my friends on how to get through the cover letter process.

First, understand the letter structure. You start with a salutation, if you can find the name of the hiring manager or the head of the department to which you’re applying, start with that. If not, Dear Hiring Manager will generally do. The rest of it is kind of like writing and english paper. With an intro, body and conclusion.

The first paragraph typically starts with, as any other story, a great opening line. This is essential if you want folks to keep reading. The first paragraph should then go on to give a sentence or two saying who you are, (aka a student at Michigan or a young professional at a startup), and brief introduction of how your background will prepare you for, wait for it X role at Y company this summer.

Next up you have the body- just like a good essay it should have supporting body paragraphs, but unlike your book report it should not be a summation of the facts (your resume) or a lengthy description of all your accomplishment. To the contrary, these paragraphs should elaborate on something on your resume, or describe something it doesn’t show and how that will make you a good employee for the company. Make sure you include this last part. Just like those college admissions essay you write or the vows you will eventually write, the person on the other end wants to think you think they’re special, the most important peson in their lives. This part is typically 2, sometimes 3 paragraphs depending on what you have to say. The first body paragraph should pack the most punch and down from there.

The final paragraph is a pretty standard paragraph. It should be a sentence or two summation of your body paragraphs and why it would make you right for the role. State how you can be reached, when you are available to start, and how much you appreciate the opportunity. It should end with one of those stale sort of thank “you’s” like sincerely or best or something like that.

For more info about cover letter structure, one of my favorite resources to send out is the University of Michigan career center site.

Second, personalize and add flare. It is important to note that not all companies, and thus not all cover letters should be alike. Sometimes employers will ask for certain information you should weave into the letter. If you have some sort of personal connection or conviction related to the company that should shine through. Moral of this story, do your research. If you can’t personalize the cover letter, why are you writing this cover letter?

Third, proofread, Proofread, PROOFREAD. My mother still insists on reading every cover letter I write. While most of the time her suggestions are mainly grammatically based, and confession, she might not see every one, she does see most, and I must say its nice to have someone be an unconditionally supportive set of eyes. Even when I don’t send them home, I have a friend or a sibling look over my letters. Trust me, after hours spent thinking about this stuff and staring at a computer screen, you’re bound to make a mistake or two and you need someone to catch them.

All and all, cover letters aren’t fun. Many employers probably won’t actually read them, and they can become that fifth class you aren’t getting credit for, but it is important to at least give it a try. Hopefully now you have a good head start.

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