Cover letter tips for new graduates
Fire up your post-college job search with a customized cover letter that shows your passion, potential and motivation. Here's how.
New graduates, you have a good chance of landing a job if you launch an aggressive search. A well-crafted cover letter should be part of this proactive strategy -- experts say that customizing your letter can open doors to new opportunities. Here’s how.
Know the employer
While distributing the same cover letter to every employer saves time, you won’t stand out from the crowd of applicants doing the same thing.
“Research the company, learn about their culture and business needs, and speak directly to those needs, says Kim Mohiuddin, certification chair for the National Resume Writers’ Association and president of Movin’ On Up Resumes, a resume-writing firm in San Diego. “This personalized approach shows that you care about and are qualified for the opportunity.”
Louise Kursmark, co-author of Cover Letter Magic also advises graduates to customize their letters. “Show your enthusiasm and connect your knowledge, experience and career interests to the specific employer and job opportunity,” she says.
Kursmark also suggests customizing not only what you say in your cover letter, but also whom you send it to. “Make a personal connection with someone who works at the company and ask for a referral to the hiring authority,” she says.
What to Include
You might lack real-world work experience, but your cover letter can be chock-full of activities that demonstrate your potential to succeed.
These activities could include “volunteer work, class projects and extracurricular activities, as well as special interests such as traveling or playing sports,” says Barb Poole, president of career-management firm Hire Imaging in St. Cloud, Minnesota.
New grads can also mention a high GPA, school leadership positions and seasonal jobs in their cover letters to stand out, says Betty Williams, a nationally certified resume writer and owner of BW Custom Resumes.
Williams suggests finding out what skills are important to the employer, then showing how you have used those skills.
For example, Williams assisted a graduate in the tourism field who was applying for outdoor recreation course instructor positions. She included the following in her cover letter to highlight the leadership skills that were vital to the job: “My leadership experience includes serving as a backpacking trip leader for an on-campus club that coordinated outdoor adventures. I also designed and implemented ropes programs for community groups of up to 100 participants.” (See a sample cover letter for a recent graduate.)
Communicating that you’re genuinely into the kind of work you’re seeking is key, says Anthony Spadafore, director of Pathfinders, a Washington, DC-based career-consulting firm and coauthor of Now What? The Young Person's Guide to Choosing the Perfect Career.
“Show that you’re walking the walk by how you have already been doing what you want to do,” he says. “If you want to work for a company that builds Web sites, do you have a portfolio of Web sites or blogs that you designed for friends?”
Your passion and motivation for launching your career is a selling point -- this type of excitement isn’t always evident with more experienced workers. “In the cover letter, talk about one or two pertinent examples from your major life choices, lifelong interests, hobbies and passions, with the goal of showing how your proclivities and ideals are aligned with the employer’s projects and contributions to the world,” Spadafore says.
Cover letter format
Your cover letter is not your autobiography -- hit on the key points that would interest employers, but keep the letter short.
“Include a brief opening paragraph that mentions the specifics of the position you are targeting, followed by four to five bullets reflecting qualifications that are relevant to their requirements,” Poole says.
The final paragraph should end with a bang -- clearly state how you would contribute to the employer’s operation, and confidently ask for an interview.
Unsure of your career goal?
Do some career exploration before writing a cover letter. “Hiring managers should not have to figure out how your skills meet their needs -- do that work for them,” Mohiuddin says. If you have more than one possible direction, write different cover letters for each objective.
“As you gain clarity about what you’re good at and most want, you’ll be ready to communicate from a genuine, confident space,” Spadafore says.