Survival Guide: Cover Letters

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Your resume alone won’t cut it. With the heightened competitive job market, sending a cover letter with your resume is the new package deal. Employers expect a letter that shows them you’ve researched their company and you’re passionate about the position. It’s also a surefire way to ensure you can do more than just string a couple sentences together—employers value strong communication skills. While your resume boasts your qualifications, your cover letter explains how you will contribute to the organization. They’re here to stay, so you might as well embrace them with College Magazine’s Cover Letter Survival Guide.


Step 1: Format
We’re talking 3-4 paragraphs, single-spaced with a double space in between paragraphs. Your cover letter should never exceed one page. Include your address and contact information at the top and begin with a formal greeting (Dear Mr./Ms.). Try to find the name of the person who reviews applications by searching the organization’s website for a human resources representative or someone in the same department as the listed position. Otherwise, use the greeting “Dear Hiring Manager,” “Dear Human Resources Director” or “To whom it may concern.”
Step 2: Introduction
There are two options: traditional or creative. For a traditional opening, state your interest in the position and introduce yourself with details such as your university, year and major. Be sure to include the position title with something along the lines of “I would like to express my interest in the Editor’s position” or “I’m excited about the opportunity to apply for the Research Assistant position.” You should show that you’ve researched the company and explain why you are passionate about the position (see Step 3). For a creative introduction, the options are limitless. Grab your employer’s attention with a unique first line that speaks to the position or begin with an anecdote that relates to the field of interest. This is your chance to impress an employer with your writing skills and ability to think outside the box. For example, a student applying for a Public Relations position may decide to tell the story of how he ran a pumpkin carving philanthropy event for his fraternity and after pitching the story to the school newspaper, which publicized the event and helped attract over 50 participants, he was hooked on the power of publicity.
Step 3: Research
Employers want to hear what draws you to their organization. Your cover letter should sound as though you’ve been dreaming about working there ever since you took that field trip to their factory in the 5th grade. Read the company’s mission statement, client list, success stories and press releases. Once you have a solid understanding of what the position with the company entails, you can further express your interest in working there. For example, “I’m passionate about your mission to keep our community informed about new developments in our education system and raise money for start up charter schools. By creating greater community involvement through the position of Events Coordinator, I am eager to help build more opportunities for children.” Show off your research in the intro or middle paragraphs of your cover letter.
Step 4: Experience & Contributions
What sets you apart from the competition? Employers can look to your resume to see that you were the Editor in Chief of your college newspaper, so in the cover letter you’ll need to explain just how that experience qualifies you to be the Assistant Editor for Shark Magazine. Explain that by leading a team of thirty student journalists you learned the importance of building a team, delegating projects and setting realistic deadlines. What will you bring to the table? You might want to describe your experience launching multi-media stories for the graduation issue of the school paper. Be as specific as possible – describe how the article was released on the homepage with images of funky graduation caps, which led readers to the website to watch the graduation video, which then linked to the twitter page for readers to tweet their graduation cap design ideas. While it’s tempting to tell the employer what you will gain from the position—don’t do it. Employers don’t care that working at Shark Magazine will help you grow as an editor and allow you to travel to aquariums around the world. Stay focused on what you can do for them, not what they can do for you.
Step 5: Thanks & Interview
Employers may be sifting through 100 cover letters, so always thank them for their time. Then make it easy for them to contact you for an interview by signing off with some version of “I have enclosed my resume for your review. Please feel free to contact me at 543-421-5435 or [email protected]. Thank you in advance for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you soon.” Then end with “Sincerely” and your name.
Example Format:
Street Address
City, State Zip

Company Name
Company Street Address
Company City, State Zip

Dear Human Resources Director,

Paragraph 1: Introduction & Research

Paragraph 2: Research, Experience & Contributions

Paragraph 3: More Experience & Contributions

Paragraph 4: Thanks & Interview

Your Name
Does your cover letter need work?Submit your cover letter for a makeover. Email it to [email protected]subject line: “Cover Letter Makeover.”
Before summer, you body isn't the only thing you need to buff up; your cover letter needs just as much work. With a little workout, you and your cover letter can be in tip-top shape with some help from George Washington University's Career Center.
You have your resume ready to go, but now you need a cover letter too? What IS a cover letter, anyway? We talked to a finance manager from Wells Fargo about what companies look for—and dread—in cover letters.

College Magazine Staff

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