The Dreaded Cover Letter

Paige Band will be going into her senior year at St. John’s University (Queens, NY), going for a Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice with a focus in forensic psychology. While her outside interests vary with the basic listening to music, hanging out with friends, and reading a lot, at school she stays active on campus helping different types of people in different ways. She works in Career Services to help students clean up resumes and figure out what kind of career path they want to follow. She works with the Office of Admissions giving tours to perspective families and helping them figure out their future college plans. She also works with athletics teams and Student Government, fostering school spirit on campus. All of this experience allows her to understand various parts of the growing up process in this point of a young person’s life and how to take advantage of every opportunity.

Through my experience as a career peer through University Career Services, I get a lot of questions about the cover letter. Most people dread it. Personally, it is the most fun part of your application process. Why would I spout such crazy talk? First, the application is technical and focuses on the straight facts. Second, so does the resume. Now the cover letter is your first opportunity to show an employer who you are beyond those facts. Technically, a cover letter “serves as a letter of intent, summary of your resume, and writing sample.” I want you to start thinking of your cover letter as your first interview opportunity. This is how an employer will decide if they like your “style” and you have an amazing style. So take this opportunity and use it as your biggest advantage.

First, let’s start with the basic structure. The cover letter is divided into 5 parts. Part 1: the header, Part 2: Paragraph 1, Part 3: Paragraph 2 and 3, Part 4: Paragraph 4, and Part 5: Signature.

The Header. First off, use the same header from your resume on your cover letter. It keeps things simpler and consistent. The header should include your name, address, phone number, and email. Then, at the top of the page, put the date followed by the name of the interviewer, the interviewer’s title, organization name and the organization’s address that the cover letter is going to. If you’re not sure of the actual name of the person the letter is going to then just have the title, company name, and address (i.e. Human Resources Manager or Hiring Manager). Then you directly address the person or job title if the exact person is unknown in a simple “Dear _____,”. Never address it as, “To Whom it May Concern.” This shows a lack of research and interest in the company.

Paragraph 1. This is your opening paragraph. It serves a specific purpose of declaring the job you are applying for. Your first sentence states the job you want and the company name. Then include another 2-3 sentences expressing your reasons for applying and why you believe you will fit with the company. This should be a simple, short paragraph.

Paragraph 2 and 3. I believe in needing two body paragraphs. This is where you plead your case, so to speak, to the employer as to why you fit the job description. Remember, we don’t want a dissertation, but examples of what makes you awesome. And you are awesome… so show it. First, look at the job description. Note what the responsibilities are and compare them to the experiences you have already had. As close as you can get or just as similar as possible. For example, I was applying for retail position. I have no retail experience but, I am a student ambassador and therefore act as a sales person for the university, a $55,000 product that I needed to be trained to sell. I had to learn about the product and need the ability to present this information to large groups as well as have personal conversations one on one with families. I need to convince someone to love St. John’s University. That is basically what a retail sales person does just in a different environment. So in each paragraph, your job is to describe one experience that relates to the job you are applying for. Then pick a second experience. As you describe the experiences, focus on how it relates to the job you are applying for. Take key characteristics from the job description, the requirements, and the responsibilities and apply them almost word for word in the cover letter.
Paragraph 4. This paragraph is as simple as the first. Here is where you restate why you want the job and thank the employer for giving their time to read your cover letter and resume.

Signature. Congratulations! You have written your cover letter. Now type sincerely, include your full name, sign it and that’s that!

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