College is different for everyone. For some, it’s a chance to enjoy freedom from the shackles of adult supervision. For others, it’s an opportunity to grind away at the library; the prospect of succeeding in the future dangling in front of them like a carrot on a stick.
Regardless of how you choose to participate at the university level, you can’t be a college student forever. Eventually, you’ll need a job (unless you’re really, really lucky). The best way to land that job? Write a killer cover letter.
Most college students have very little relevant work experience when they are thrust into the workforce. Thankfully, there are ways to navigate around this obstacle, and it all starts with putting together a solid cover letter. I’ll first explore why doing so is critical for young job seekers, and then dive into how they can make it happen.
Why it’s important
The average college student hates written assignments, and often invests little time honing his or her writing. This becomes apparent when you look at recent graduates who’ve entered the workforce.
According to a comprehensive survey conducted by Payscale, 44% of employers believe that writing proficiency is the weakest hard skill of the “just-graduated” demographic. Clearly, hiring managers and bosses are not too thrilled with the way their new hires write.
A cover letter is a golden opportunity to prove that you can write. During the entire job application process it’s your only chance to show that you’re a competent writer, so take advantage of it!
Although knowing how to write a great resume is a big step toward landing work, it doesn’t highlight your writing ability. Only an excellent cover letter can convey such information, so make sure you invest the time to compose yours.
Besides proving you’re a competent writer, a well-written cover letter can also highlight your personality and relevant skills. Check out the following two paragraphs from a bank teller cover letter:
In paragraph one, the applicant shows that he pays attention to detail, citing his first experience visiting the bank to which he’s applying. He doesn’t need to say “I’m detail oriented” — instead, he proves it with his experience. Then in paragraph two, he highlights soft skills (customer service and ability to communicate well), plus mentions some hard skills too (mathematics, languages, software).
Many of these skills will be repeated in a resume, but don’t worry! If you can illustrate how they can help your target company meet specific goals, you will definitely impress the hiring manager.
How to write an effective cover letter
Putting together an effective cover letter as a freshly-minted graduate is not rocket science (thankfully). If it seems like it, you might want to check out a cover letter writing guide for comprehensive instructions. Instead of diving into the basics here, this section will explore steps to make yours stand out.
Most likely you are not the only young job seeker including a cover letter in your application, so it’s important to write one that catches the eye of an employer.
The first step is to try and make an emotional connection through your writing. This can be done by:
- Emphasizing your passion for the position. Don’t be dishonest, but if you’re truly excited about the opportunity to work for the target company, bring it up. Explain how you enjoy their products and like the direction they’re heading. Even if you’ve heard that they’re a great company to work for, or the office environment is stimulating — all this information can be incorporated into your cover letter.
- Finding out what charities your target company supports. If you also support this charity or appreciate its contribution to society, make sure to mention it in your writing! Write how you’d love working for a company that contributes to the community in such a positive way.
- Addressing the hiring manager by name. If you’re able to find the name of the person receiving your cover letter, it’s much better than writing something drab like “to whom it may concern.” Check the company website, call the company, surf LinkedIn. We are living in the internet age — this information is most likely available in the public domain.
Step two is to show how you fit into your target company’s future. Look at how Peter Long (the bank teller applicant from earlier) paints himself as the perfect candidate in his closing paragraph:
He first states how the company is expanding rapidly, and then mentions how part of their success is due to top-notch customer service. As someone well-versed in this area, Peter positions himself as the ideal candidate for helping his target company continue their current trajectory.
The third step is to include some experience that proves your competence. It’s okay if you’ve never worked a day in your life — there are still ways to spin your collegiate successes and achievements as relevant ones to the job at hand. Think back on the following three areas of your college days — does anything stick out in your mind?
- Academics: A high GPA, awards & honors, successful school projects — these can all be leveraged in a cover letter. Use them to solidify yourself as dependable, driven, and creative.
- Extra-curricular activities: Extra-curricular activities are great because they show you have passion outside the classroom. If you’ve been involved in any leadership roles here, that’s great to mention as well.
- Volunteering: If you have volunteer experience, demonstrate how it has helped you sharpen a tangible work skill (your ability to communicate with others, your confidence, your organization skills, etc.)
If you’re strapped for ideas, there are many excellent cover letter examples available online to get your mind jump-started. Each job has its own set of relevant competencies and skills associated with it, so doing some research before shooting off your applications will help you separate yourself from the pack.
Best of luck on the job hunt!