Your Essential Cover Letter Guide

Last month, Valley brought you a compilation of seamless tips for crafting a head-turning resume. While your resume is a crucial element of your job search credentials, there’s a few other things that go into impressing future employers. With internship and job-hunting season upon us, you need to get your cover letter in tip-top shape. So, here are a few tips on how to do so.

First and most importantly, eliminate any and all errors.

Double, triple, and quadruple check your cover letter for spelling, technical and grammatical errors. Then, get at least one other person to look it over. There’s nothing more embarrassing than realizing you sent a cover letter with a typo in it out for 46 different jobs. If you do, you won’t be hearing back from any of them. Employers read dozens of cover letters for each position and are looking for any reason to boot you from the running. One seemingly harmless typo can and will cost you jobs and internships.

Have a solid format but don’t be afraid to branch out.

This element of a cover letter can be a bit subjective as it depends on the field you’re trying to break into, as well as the job itself. For example, graphic designers should be more inclined to use a more dynamic format to showcase their skills while those applying to corporate companies should stick to a simpler format to ensure potential employers that there is no funny business here. When in doubt, it’s best to stick to your standard three-to-five-paragraph format.

If you choose to branch out, make sure you know what you’re doing. Not only can you ruin your chance of being offered the job, but you can also put a good-sized dent into your reputation.

Also, try your hardest to keep your cover letter short and simple. According to Mark Slack at The Muse, 70 percent of employers want cover letters that are 250 words or less — that’s barely half a page. It’s hard to justify not using up your entire page, but keep in mind that your cover letter is one of many that they’re reading and the process can be monotonous. So, it’s important to stand out in your cover letter.

The content of your cover letter should offer unique information.

By this, we mean that your cover letter should not be a letter-version of your resume. Instead, your cover letter should offer information that you were not able to fit on your resume. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t use your cover letter as a place to expand on a truly remarkable experience you had regarding something you’ve already mentioned on your resume. But, you will look like a fool if you list out all of your experiences in paragraph form just for your potential employer to then go to your resume and read the exact same thing over again.

You can also give an anecdote of a personal experience that has fortified you with skills that are perfect for the position you want. It’s best not to get too personal if you choose to go this route and you should steer clear of high school experiences unless they are above and beyond. Keep in mind that your cover letter is your first impression to an employer. When you first apply, you are a one-dimensional, single-spaced document that can easily blend in with the rest. This is your chance to stand out.

Show that you’re an achiever rather than a doer.

People gravitate toward the idea of listing things that they’ve done because they believe that a long list of things that have been done is impressive. While that may be slightly true, it doesn’t show employers anything but the fact that you’ve done some stuff. What you want to do is show them that you didn’t just land that internship, but you achieved many things during your time with the company. Even if your achievements are small, it shows that you are driven and goal-oriented rather than someone who just does things.

Little details matter… a lot.

Include details in each cover letter that don’t let on that you’re using a similar template for every one you’re sending out to different companies. Personalization of a cover letter can not only catch someone’s eye but it makes it more conversational. Again, you’re just a one-page summary of a person when you’re in the early stages of applying for jobs. Conversational is good.

When doing this, make sure all your little details match up. Try to mention the position you’re applying for as well as the name of the company in both the introductory paragraph and the last paragraph to show that you know who you’re talking to and what you’re talking about. Additionally, do research and include the name of the hiring manager — or whoever will be reading my employment credentials – with the address of the company you’re applying to in the header. Even if you put the name of someone who doesn’t end up reading your credentials, it shows that you put in the effort.

We at Valley can’t guarantee that you’ll land the job, but these tips for your cover letter are sure to make you shine regardless. If you’re looking for more help with writing a resume or cover letter, there are a lot of helpful resources on campus including Student Affairs Career Services and the Penn State Writing Center on the second floor of Boucke building.