Getting Your Cover Letter from Good to Great!

By: Garrick Nichols

A polished, well-written cover letter can help any student stand out from the pack. While “cookie-cutter” cover letters may be quicker and easier, they often make an applicant appear uninterested and not committed. Unfortunately, many cover letters fall prey to the same mistakes: boring and not specific. Think about what you would want to read 100+ of and remember that the best way to impress your audience is to employ concise writing and deliver a direct, clear, and consistent message.

The most common issues for most cover letters aren’t grammar, nor is it forgetting to change the details of the previous company you wrote a cover letter for (though that’s pretty bad). The most frequent mistakes: being generic and vague. The best way to avoid these pitfalls: Show, don’t tell. I recite this mantra to almost every career walk-in at the UDC. I say this because it pushes the writer to take the purpose of each sentence into account. By doing this, students can identify specifics and keep the reader’s attention by removing unhelpful, repetitive information. Of course after this advice, I usually get asked, “but how do I do that?” My answer is very often that “you’ve probably already done it”! If you’ve already completed BAR statements on your resume, you’ve laid a strong foundation for content to elaborate on in your cover letter. A good BAR statement should already identify a skill and “prove” how you’ve used it by sharing the result. These resume bullets can help shape what skills to mention specifically in a cover letter and show where you can highlight unique stories that illustrate the use of each. This not only enables you to streamline your cover letter, but also makes the recruiter’s job much easier by being able to pinpoint specifics important to the role or company.

Speaking of streamlining and specifics, there is such a thing as TMI (too much information) when it comes to your cover letter. All cover letters should answer the question: Why should we (the company) hire you (the writer)? By answering this question with a strong thesis sort of statement, you can provide yourself, and the reader, with a framework for understanding what content you will drive towards and be elaborating on. In my writing, this sentence typically goes at the end of my first paragraph. Having this near the top allows me to reference it as I continue to write to determine if I’m including information that doesn’t support or relate. If I have, then I can remove it or re-frame it in a way that it relates better. Again, recruiters read many cover letters, which makes standing out difficult. One of the key ways to stand out is by delivering a clear and consistent message that communicates your value and thus allows you to shine in your content, understanding of the role, and ability to contribute to the needs outlined.

Your cover letter should stand out for all the right reasons. So, before you click submit, take a few minutes to make sure you’re delivering a strong message and doing so in a clear and poignant fashion. Think about it like this, if you were a recruiter and read your cover letter, would you hire yourself?

Also, don’t forget that we are here to help with your cover letters! Come to a career walk in M-F 10am – 4pm to meet with a CSC for proofreading and support. If you’ve never written a cover letter before, check out some of the samples and style guides on our website HERE!

By Trish Harper
Trish Harper ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, UNDERGRADUATE CAREER ADVISING Profile Picture