Based on personal experience, bussing tables for minimum wage can be very frustrating, especially when you’re a college student with big dreams. But before getting that professional desk job, students have to undergo an application process more rigorous than filling out a simple application form or having your dad hook you up with a job.
Yes, you will have to crank out adult documents, such as résumés and stuff. But to help you get through it, here’s a guide to show you how to write that spot-on cover letter for your dossier.
Step One: When to write it
A cover letter is the salt to a résumé’s caramel ice cream. They’re meant to always be together and supplement each other.
Don’t repeat things you wrote on your résumé in the letter.
Professional positions you’ve held in the past should be listed on a résumé, while specific details of past professional projects are better explained descriptively in a cover letter. So in your résumé, write that you have worked as news editor of your student paper, while in your cover letter, write that you have done multimedia projects about people in your city.
In principle, every résumé should be escorted by a cover letter. But if the boss just wants a résumé, the boss just wants a résumé.
Step Two: How to write it
You write a cover letter just like a normal business letter. Right aligned, your address, your employer’s address and the date should be at the top. Then in your salutation, be very specific. Never use the cliché “To Whom It May Concern.” Address your employer using his or her last name as you found it on the job posting. If unsure who to address the letter to, use “Dear Sir/Madame.”
In the first paragraph, state where you found the posting and when you can start. In the second paragraph, talk about specific projects or awards you’ve had in the past. Be sure they’re a big deal; working with, but without actually seeing, a relatively unknown congressional representative does not count.
In an optional third paragraph, talk about how previous experiences helped you develop your personality. Going to Ghana as part of the Peace Corps definitely made you learn an exotic African language and enhanced your worldview, so put it in there.
Finally, in the last paragraph, thank the employer, put your contact info and politely urge the employer to schedule a job interview with you.
Step Three: Keep it short but sweet
According to Careerbuilder.com, cover letters should be generally less than one page, and those that exceed that should only be for hardcore positions such as scientists and people seeking government appointments. So be very direct in your cover letter.
Don’t use very flowery words, but use concise active verbs.
And be descriptive, but don’t exaggerate. You don’t want your employer to throw your application into that pile of hyperbolic portfolios that he hates.
Step Four: Rewrite
Every English professor might have already told you that writing is a constant process. So rewrite your cover letter as much as you can. Use Microsoft Word’s spell check for grammar errors. Edit.
Read your letter out loud and listen if it sounds weird. Edit.
Have a friend read it and ask if it reads weird. Edit.
And if you’re feeling too lazy DIY your letter, you can visit UNM’s Career Services. The office offers assistance with application materials and holds workshops on it from time to time.
Your cover letter might still not be perfect after this, but you will at least discover how you’ve wrongly used “their/they’re/there” through this process.