Anatomy of a Killer Cover Letter
Hook a Recruiter with your Cover Letter
What Makes a Bad Cover Letter
Cover letters serve as a bridge between your resume and the specific job to which you are applying. Therefore, there isn’t a “one size fits all” cover letter. It needs to be specific to the organization and position you are applying for - a generic cover letter will not help you.
What is a Cover Letter?
- Brief overview of your interest in the company and your enthusiasm for the position/internship you are applying for.
- An opportunity to demonstrate your writing and communication abilities
- Additional information to supplement what you included in your resume
Before & After Cover Letters
- Complement Your Resume: These two documents should contain different but congruent information. Don’t waste a recruiter’s time by placing redundant information in your application materials.
- No Templates: Templates are “pick-up lines.” Don’t insult a recruiter by giving him/her an impersonal and generic cover letter. Instead, craft a new cover letter for each new opportunity. You are better off submitting no cover letter than one in which you simply cut and paste the current company’s name.
Format & Layout
- One page only. Any given cover letter you create should never be more than one page. In many cases, a half-page letter will be most effective.
- Your cover letter should begin with the date, name of contact person (if available), the person’s title (if available), organization name, and address
- Try to identify the hiring manager in the department or organization to which you are applying. If the job description does not list a name, you can search the company website for the most relevant person. Make sure to spell his/her name and title correctly.
- Your name, address and contact information block can be listed at the beginning or end of the letter
- Double space between paragraphs
- Add a valediction, space for your signature and your name at the end of the letter
The first paragraph states your motivation—WHY you are writing, and WHY you are interested in this employer.
- What specifically drove you to apply?
- How did you know about the opportunity?
- What skills or strengths will you bring?
Start your letter with either a story or a sentence that is otherwise interesting or unique. Do not start a letter with a dry and common introduction that lists the job you are applying for, what year you are in college, the school you go to or other unhelpful facts.
Example: “While growing up, from ages seven to 15, my father and I would have a movie night every other Friday night. We would watch Paramount classics from the 50s and 60s. Both the films and the memories with my father remain some of my all-time favorites.”
After your introduction earns the attention of your audience, you can now transition into your main argument: that you are a competitive candidate for the position you are applying to at their company/organization. Briefly list two to four reasons as to why you are either qualified or a good fit for the opportunity.
Example: “I am a uniquely qualified candidate for Paramount’s Marketing Analyst Internship due to my passion for the company’s productions, my experience in market analysis and data management and my educational background in Film and TV.”
- Personalize each cover letter by including specific information about the organization and/or its products or services.
- This information should NOT be subjective (e.g. “I have heard…” or “I know…”)
- Go beyond what is on their homepage
- Indicate your reason for writing including the position or type of work for which you are applying. Tie this to what you know or have learned about the company to show why you are applying.
- If you received a referral, and that person has a positive relationship with the reader, indicate how you learned of the position or organization
The middle section states WHAT qualification you bring to the employer. Below are two methods for drafting a compelling cover letter.
Option 1: CPD Method
This method of writing will create a cover letter that offers deeper connection and insight into how you would uniquely fit within the organization.
Number of Paragraphs: Three. Use a unique paragraph that corresponds to each of the bullet points below.
- Story I
- What outcome did you achieve relevant to the position?
- Name the context, challenge, action, and result.
- Connect story directly to the organization.
- Story II
- What broader skill set can you bring to the position?
- How do those skills relate to the position and organization?
- What training have you received relevant to the position?
- Include formal and informal education.
Option 2: STAR Method
Each paragraph should be a brief, story-based summary of two to three sentences that explains your interest or qualification for the opportunity. The STAR Method is a great way to quickly tell a vivid and effective story.
Number of Paragraphs: Use a unique paragraph that corresponds with each of the different reasons you listed in your intro. If you introduced three topics, draft three paragraphs that follow the same order.
- Situation: “While interning in the marketing department at Ross & Green PR…”
- Task: “…I was responsible for tracking and documenting impressions and shares across the company’s various media platforms. Ultimately, this was a function of assessing social campaign strategies and making informed decisions, particularly around branded and sponsored content.”
- Action: “In order to ensure that our budget was providing a return on our investment, I would track each of our posts’ reach and engagement and calculate the ratio of cost/metric.”
- Result: “As a result, we were able to identify weaknesses in our content strategy, reallocate resources and increase our metrics.”
- Use your resume as a source of information, but do not repeat resume content on your cover letter. Instead, enhance that information by expanding on specific experiences or knowledge to give the reader a more clear sense of you as a candidate.
- You do not need to address every qualification you have for the position; focus on the most relevant
- Story I
The final paragraph offers NEXT STEPS, whether that be an interview or an opportunity to further discuss your qualifications.
Theirs: “If you would like to further discuss my interests and qualifications for this position, please reach me at Lionel.Lion@lmu.edu or 310-338-2892.”
Yours: “I will follow up with you in two weeks to ensure that you have everything you need from me.”
Close: “Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to connecting with you soon.”
- Restate skills and strengths
- Clarify availability and express gratitude
- Keep it concise: The full letter with header and addressee’s information should be no longer than one page.
- The font and formatting of your cover letter should match the font and formatting of your resume
- Tailor each letter to the requirements of each position and employer’s needs.
- Write it in your own words, not copying material out of a book.
- Proofread yourself and ask others to proofread as well (Do not only rely on spell check and grammar check).
- Print on resume paper; include as the body of your email; or attach it to your email as a separate document.
Why Should You Use a Cover Letter?
- Standout: Cover letters provide you with a chance to impress recruiters more than other applicants. Often times, job candidates choose not to write and submit a cover letter when applications do not specifically require one, or make the risky decision of submitting generic cover letters based off of online templates. Unless specifically instructed not to submit a cover letter, always submit a customized letter that you tailored for the specific opportunity you are applying to.
- Additional Space for Your Story: The resume is not always the most appropriate or effective place to provide context or information regarding your interest in a given opportunity. Cover letters allow you to go deeper about why a recruiter should consider you for an opportunity or provide more personal details. For instance, perhaps you want to work for a given company because you are big fan of the brand, or maybe you want to intern with a specific non-profit because you’ve personally benefited from their work. Cover letters allow you to share those stories and build on the relevant experiences listed on your resume, thereby providing recruiters with a fuller, more human picture of who are as an applicant.