How to Write Cover Letters (That Hiring Managers Actually Want to Read!)
Updated: Feb 28, 2020
It’s official: application season is upon us!
While finding a job or internship can be exciting, completing applications is a tedious and nerve-wracking experience, especially when the task of crafting a cover letter is included in the list of required materials.
Compared to the simple and straightforward resume, a cover letter is a way to introduce yourself to the reader in a memorable and personal way. A well-written cover letter should expand beyond the points included in your resume and take the reader on a journey that describes some of your greatest academic and professional development experiences or achievements.
However, condensing your personality and experiences into a few paragraphs can be difficult, and students oftentimes do not know which details to include in a cover letter. Between last spring and this spring, I have written countless cover letters and I believe I have a fairly good grasp about how to write a good one. Although I am not an expert, the following tips have helped me, and I hope they can help you, too!
1. Use the HR Manager/Internship Coordinator’s name, if possible
If you have met this person or have them in your network, awesome! If not, I tend to check the company website and LinkedIn to find a head HR recruiter or internship coordinator’s profile. If you want to go the extra mile, you can call the company and ask for the recruiter’s name. By using the HR manager’s name,
it shows them that you care enough to do your research. If you can’t find this information, don’t worry- using “Hiring Manager” or another general greeting will suffice.
2. Write a different cover letter for each application
I didn’t follow this rule, and it haunted me. I know it is tempting to take the easy route of recycling cover letters (as I did with my personal and experience paragraphs), but you can create stronger cover letters and applications by tailoring it to fit the company’s brand voice and job description. While many internship positions are very similar, the key experiences the company wants may be lost if you copy and paste your experiences to every single cover letter. (See tip #6 for more details on how to tailor cover letters to the job description!)
3. Make your lede interesting and relevant to the company
Did anything exciting happen to the company, including new business or executive hires? Does the company have any interesting clients or past campaigns that you liked? Do they have an interesting company culture that you would like to join? Let them know! Use the lede as a way to prove how much you know about the company and as a way to stroke the organization’s ego.
I also tend to scan a company’s website and social channels to get a good understanding of its brand voice and which phrases and keywords it uses in its mission and vision statements. Connecting your experience or goals to a company’s mission and matching its tone is always helpful when crafting the perfect cover letter.
4. Write the position, location and practice/department you want the most in the first paragraph.
Sometimes companies offer different intern positions or have different practices and/or departments available to place interns. By stating your ideal location and position/department in the first paragraph, you make what you want clear.
5. Use the correct internship titles and/or hashtags
This is a good time to review the job application and copy the words they use to describe the position. For example, BCW Global calls their internship program the “Harold Burson Summer Internship” and the position itself is referred to as a “HAROLD Intern,” while Weber Shandwick tends to use “#WorkAtWeber” on its website’s Career tab. Using these terms and hashtags proves to the recruiter that you did your homework about the position and the company.
6. Incorporate storytelling
My formula is an engaging introduction paragraph, some facts about myself, my experience(s) and results and a conclusion. It helps me plan out what I want to write about in the cover letter. Personally, this method works because I like to have a certain flow to my writing. It takes the reader on a journey and gently delivers them to each key point I want them to know about me. It allows me to shift focus between paragraphs by connecting a point I had made earlier in the cover letter.
I use the final paragraph to reiterate the position I want and to continue to compliment the company. I thank the company for their time and consideration and include a call-to-action to contact me. In the call-to-action be polite and open-ended, not aggressive. Use language that suggests that you are willing to offer more information and that you are excited to speak with them soon.
Additionally, avoid using clichés that are bound to make your reader groan. A cover letter is an opportunity to showcase your writing skills and creativity- don't rely on overused phrases to capture your true self!
7. Descript experiences and how they match the job description in-depth
This is another rule that I did not fully understand until after I had completed all of my applications. Now, I like to imagine a job posting as an RFP: the company is making specific requests, and your job is to match it as closely as possible. Directly relate your skills to what they are searching for in an applicant and make those skills clear. Don’t wait for them to read a sentence and think, “Oh wow! This person is motivated and strategic.” Say “I am motivated and strategic because…” and insert your anecdote and experience.
Don’t be like me: I made the mistake for applying to a job that values media monitoring, yet I didn’t mention the weekly reports I had created at another internship! Instead, I focused on the media pitching I had achieved. While this example is evidence of creating results, it wasn’t something the company was looking for in a crisis communications applicant. Thankfully, I had mentioned media monitoring on my resume and had the chance to answer questions regarding my experience during a phone interview, but you won’t always be so lucky.
8. Any specific stats or outcomes are evidence of your success and make you look great on paper
Companies love to see results because it is a poor business decision to hire someone who is incapable of helping its bottom line or purpose. Establish you are the best candidate for the position and use your experiences and skills as evidence to support this claim.
If you worked in social and have specific engagement metrics- include them! If you raised a certain amount of money for a nonprofit fundraiser- state it! If you garnered a certain amount of media placements- say it (and list the organizations)! Including work that moved people or profits always catches the recruiter’s eye.
9. Highlight skills and experiences similar to the company’s mission or purpose
While this particular piece of advice doesn’t apply to other corporations or in-house positions, you can still apply this logic to other cover letters: If you are applying to a healthcare company and you have healthcare communications experience, definitely highlight it even if it isn’t your most important experience (or if it happened a year or two ago). It is an experience that shows the company that you understand the nature of their work and have worked in a similar environment, a key differentiator in an applicant.
10. Have someone review your cover letter, then have other people review it
As you can see by my examples, my old cover letters are riddled with mistakes. Companies offering internships are often inundated with applications and are looking for any excuse to reject candidates so they can move forward with the ones who don't make silly grammatical errors. Although the content in my cover letter is good, I bet many of my applications were discarded because of this. Don’t let simple grammar or spelling errors be the reason a company is forced to reject you.
Looking for review your cover letter and give honest feedback? Feel free to contact me using the “Contact” tab on my website!
I hope I helped, and happy job hunting!