Whether it’s a job, internship, or college scholarship, you’re going to have to write your first cover letter. So what? After all the papers you’ve written, compiling a single page synopsis of all your relevant academic and professional accomplishments should be no sweat, right? To a future employer, a cover letter provides the first, and possibly only, introduction to who you are and what you’ve done. To make your letter shine, keep in mind these simple dos and don’ts.
Do: Stick to the Basics
Keep it short, simple, and to the point. Your cover letter is meant to be an intro, not a dissertation. All you need to do is catch the reader’s attention, and let him or her know why you’re qualified. Your letter should state who you are, what position you seek, what makes you the best candidate, and contact information for an interview. Since the cover letter will be accompanied by a résumé and/or portfolio, you only need to give a few highlights and then direct the reader to the enclosed materials.
Don’t: Act Your Age
First impressions can be hard to overcome, and if you create an unprofessional, unattractive, grammatically incorrect cover letter, you may not get a second chance. To convince the reader that you’re calm, cool, and collected, format your letter correctly (see Monster.com for tips on cover letter layout) and give it a thorough spelling and grammar check before printing it out on white, unlined, unscented paper. Letting the reader know that you’re conscientious enough to send a neat, concisely written résumé packet is the first step in convincing them that you’re the candidate of their dreams.
The résumé packet is just the beginning. If you’re lucky, an interview will follow. End your cover letter by thanking the reader for their time, directing them to the enclosed materials, and stating that you’d love to discuss your credentials in greater detail. After the package has been sent, call after no more than two weeks to make sure that its’ been received and to check on its status. Following up lets the reader know that this position is a top priority and that you’re organized and eager enough to check back.
Be quick, be professional, and be available for a telephone or in-person interview. A killer cover letter will only get your foot in the door; the rest is up to you.