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Shining Through a Cover Letter

Creating a standout cover letter is an excellent way to give yourself a competitive edge in the job market. When hiring managers pour through stacks of resumes, they are looking for  something that stands out. Highly sought-after positions are often flooded with resumes whose applicants all or mostly have the education and skills required for the job. This is where having a strong cover letter is crucial. Some recruiters value a good cover letter over an adequate, but ordinary resume. A cover letter is an opportunity to personalize your resume and to demonstrate your written communication skills, as well as to show your passion and understanding of the company’s mission. Successfully connecting your goals and passion to the mission of the company can be the difference in getting you noticed in a stack of otherwise generic resumes.

A strong cover letter will be structured essentially the same way for every job you’re applying for. The goal of a cover a letter is to translate your resume into convincing prose that leaves an impression on the recruiter. The first step to this is beginning with the recruiter themselves. In the first paragraph, you want to address whomever the hiring manager is personally. Do not start out with “To Whom It May Concern.” This will take the life out of your letter and make it apparent that you didn’t take the time to do your research. Always address whomever you’re writing personally –and if you can’t find a name, address the department you’re applying to. Something like, “Dear Human Resources Employer.” The first paragraph will be where you make your introductions in a brief, concise way. You want to succinctly give an overview of your experience and education --signaling immediately that you are qualified for the job.  Make sure to spend a sentence or two on the recruiter by explaining to them why their company or department appeals to you. If you have been referred by someone, take care to mention him or her and the things you’ve heard.
 
The next paragraph is usually only a few sentences - it’s where you tell the recruiter what you want. You’ll want to be as specific as possible so it’s clear what position you’re applying for. Recruiters are typically short on time so they’ll want to know quickly how to consider your qualifications, skills and experience.
 
In the third paragraph, you’ll be getting to the meat of the cover letter. This is where the art of persuasion comes in. You’ll be telling the recruiter why they should give you the position as opposed to everyone else. In thinking about how to approach this, it’s useful to think from the recruiter’s perspective: what are they looking for? What qualities make for a good candidate? Employers want to know that you will have no trouble performing the job, and that you will prove to be an asset, not a liability, to the company. Anyone who will make life easier for managers and other employees will be highly valued. It’s important to very clearly and concisely link your specific skills, experience and education to the job requirements. Explain how you will fit into the company culture and how your personality and values fit with the company’s ethos. Remember, this not a place to be generic. Specificity removes confusion and reduces the time it takes to get your point across. You want to present yourself in a way that shows you are keenly aware of the company and of yourself, and you want to convince the recruiter that you will be a natural fit.
 
Now we’re to the final paragraph. This the place to remind the recruiter that you are looking for an interview, and that you appreciate them taking the time to consider you for the position. Indicate that you will follow up within a week by e-mail or a phone call. It’s always to your advantage to come across as enthusiastic.
 
When writing a cover letter, I always like to show well-roundedness by explaining how a company’s mission connects to my worldview. You will leave an impression if you can package your interest in the company with a sense of duty to something greater than yourself. For example, if you are applying to a media company, you could describe your passion for whatever that company reports on and that you firmly believe in their mission to disseminate accurate, honest information that the public cares about. If you don’t think you’re that great of a writer, that’s ok. If you keep the basic formula that I presented in mind, you’ll do just fine. If you think you need help, or if you just want to make your cover letter the best it can be, contact the Career Center here on campus. They’ll make sure that your cover letter shines. As you go through your college career, remember that you are an aspiring professional --and that you need to do everything you can to differentiate yourself from the crowd. Having an excellent cover letter that translates your education and accomplishments into a convincing, personal exposition is one way to do just that.
 
Until next time,
 
TMJ