While some may think cover letters are simply an add-on to job applications, cover letters are vital in the decision-making process for employers.
According to career counselor Ashley Eberle, it is true that some recruiters skim cover letters and may even spend six or less seconds on it. However, cover letters are the one aspect of an application that can easily differentiate applicants from another candidate.
Eberle emphasized that cover letters are very useful for employers, especially when it comes to narrowing down a group of finalists.
With summer quickly approaching — as students scramble for jobs and internships — her advice couldn’t have come at a more relevant time.
Though Career Services doesn’t recommend writing a cover letter for the Spring Career Fair, it’s recommended when applying to jobs online or in person.
However, writing that letter is a lot easier said than done.
Eberle has a formula that she says makes writing a cover letter much simpler.
“Look at the job ad. Try to figure out what the three to five most important skills or personality attributes are that the company is looking for,” Eberle said.
Then, expand on those attributes with experiences, skills and stories that show what you can do for them, she said.
And a letter doesn’t necessarily have to be written in prose.
“Bullet points make tailoring a cover letter a heck of a lot quicker. Not only does it make it quicker for the applicant, but it allows the reader to digest it very quickly,” Eberle said. “Don’t hit the reader with a wall of text. They are much less likely to read what you have to say.”
According to Eberle, here are some of the most important tips:
- Tailor the cover letter for each job you are applying for
- In the first paragraph, answer the question “why are you applying to this company?”
- Body paragraphs or bullets: three to five skills you can bring to the table
- In the closing paragraph, ask for the interview; reiterate your skills and enthusiasm
- Make it three-quarters to a full page
- Write five to six lines per paragraph, as a rule of thumb
In addition, it’s important not to use too formal of a writing style.
“You want the cover letter to sound like you,” she said. “You are allowing the employer to get to know you as a person.”
After figuring out what needs to go into the cover letter, the Writing and Rhetoric Center can help students with the actual act of creating a letter.
According to Dawn Janke, Director of the University Writing and Rhetoric Center, the best way to take advantage of the services on campus would be to go both places.
“You don’t even need to have a cover letter,” Janke said. “You could just talk through your ideas with a tutor. Some writers really benefit from that brainstorming phase.”
In addition, having someone else read your letter can be extremely helpful when applying to so many places.
“You’ve been involved in it so heavily that you miss things,” Janke said. “When it comes to feedback, we all need it.”
But even if your efforts don’t pan out, all is not lost.
“You gain skills, and you gain a perspective on how well you’re selling yourself or not selling yourself in a certain way,” Janke said.
Both Career Services and the Writing and Rhetoric Center see students by appointment and on a walk-in basis. In addition to the regular Career Services hours, there will be a workshop on April 25 from 10 to 11 a.m. in Student Services (building 124), room 117 called “Writing cover letters that get you noticed.”