How I structure my cover letters

Good writing is damn hard!

Any time I need to write something, that quote always comes to mind.  And perhaps one of the more difficult pieces to write is a cover letter for a job application.  For most, a humble brag is not easy.  You want to show your passion and skills without coming off like a complete d’bag!

When I wrote my cover letters and when I helped friends out with their cover letters, I followed a pretty simple format which I found worked for most industries and jobs.  A simple outline and checklist of items to touch upon is a good starting point when trying to write anything (cough*accounting cases*cough).

Paragraph 1: Your purpose

In the first paragraph, I usually introduce myself (my school, my degree, my specializations/area of studies) and why I’m interested in the job.  The first paragraph should provide a purpose to why you’re writing the letter and why the recruiter is reading it.  Touch upon some key points you’ll be elaborating on in the following paragraphs to get the recruiter interested in what you have to say.

(Bonus: they don’t actually read the whole page, you got in some good points in the opener paragraph anyways.  Now, I have no proof that job screeners don’t read the full cover letter, nor have I heard of this ever happening, but hey, why leave things to chance?)

Ask yourself:

  • Why do I want this position/job?
  • What are my long-term career aspirations and how does this job fit into that picture?
  • What can I bring to this position/job? // Why would I be a great candidate for this position/job?

Paragraph 2 & 3: Your shining moments

I like to choose about 2 key experiences I’ve had that will help demonstrate that I have the experience and skills necessary for the job I’m applying for.  This is where your club executive roles and “I helped to fundraise $50,000” stories come in.  Use these roles as examples of what you’re capable of and as ways to demonstrate that you have the skills the company has listed in their job posting.

Ask yourself:

  • What was the role/what did I do? (Keep this short and to the point. It’s already on your resume so this is just for context.)
  • What did you learn?
  • What skills/technical capabilities did you develop?
  • What skills/technical capabilities did you demonstrate?
  • What were the results?

Paragraph 4: Throw the ball into their court.

Conclude your cover letter by summarizing your letter and commenting on what you expect from the job – opportunities, skills, experiences.  Make the ending of your letter more forward looking.  You’ve spent time talking about your past experiences and who are you are presently, so tell them how you want your future to go.  Don’t forget to thank the reader for their time and hint at further action(e.g. I look forward to hearing from you).

Ask yourself:

  • What kinds of things do you look forward to should you get the job? (e.g. opportunity to work within a specific industry, opportunity to travel, etc.)
  • Why is this position your next step in your career?
  • What’s the last impression I want them to have of me?

Hope these were helpful tips to get you started on your cover letter.  Good luck!

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