While cover letters aren’t always required for every job applications, many employers are interested in seeing them not only to see the prospective employee’s perception of their fit with the position and organization, but also to get a preview of their writing skills. For job hunters, this can be the hardest and most time consuming part of the application. Conveying fit for each individual position that one applies to can be daunting especially when applying to a large number of positions. Despite the daunting task, each and every cover letter should be a unique expression of your fit with that position.
The middle or second paragraph in a cover letter is typical WHERE you do this. But, HOW do you do this? First, you should really understand what skills, experience, educational qualifications, and personal characteristics the employer is looking for in the ideal candidate. The first and most obvious place to find this is the posting. It’s important to sit with the posting and make a list of all the qualities mentioned in the posting. Then pick one or two of your strongest selling points and share how you demonstrate(d) this quality in your current or past workplace, educational and/or volunteer experience. Feel free to use the STAR method to showcase your selling points.
- Situation: What was the situation, problem, or conflict you were facing?
- Task(s): What task(s) did you identify in response to this situation?
- Action: What action did you take? What did you do to solve this problem?
- Result: What was the result or outcome of your action? How did it benefit the organization? What did you learn from this experience?
If you don’t have the experience, skill or qualification listed, then think about other relevant or similar skills that are important to this position. You may be able to find additional qualities that are vital to this position by speaking to someone on the inside who is currently working with or has worked with this company. An insider can often provide you with information about the position or organization that are key to mention in the cover letter, but are not described as essential in the posting.
If you don’t have a lot of work experience, incorporate the projects that you have completed in courses, responsibilities that you have taken on in volunteer work, clubs and /or organizations that you belong to. If you currently, do not have other experiences outside of school, you should consider getting involved either in your community, academic institution, or your city. Also, be proactive in your internships, demonstrate competence there so you can participate in a variety of tasks and build a repitoire of skills and experience in your field from which to draw.
Make sure that this middle paragraph is focused, never appears like a template (i.e., you send this same letter to everyone), and that you display your writing skills. If the paragraph is very long, you should consider editing it to strengthen your key points. You can also add bullets to draw the reader’s attention to these key points. You want the paragraph to be fluid and not choppy (e.g., addressing each skill in isolation) and should tell a cohesive story about why you are such a perfect fit for this position. If you are having great difficulty pointing to your fit for the position, you need to consider if this position is appropriate for you and your career goals. Be sure to include reasons why you want to work for this particular organization! Perhaps what you can offer to the organization? What are you hoping to learn from this internship? What projects or tasks you would like to work on?
Consider that middle paragraph as your written pitch for the position. You should take great care to craft a statement that accurately reflects your fit and addresses as many of the employer’s needs as possible. Although it can feel like the toughest part, it’s really a very small space to fully communicate your professional self appropriately, so use it wisely.