So you’re a fresh new graduate! Exciting! The world is at your feet and you are ready to conquer your industry. But first you need a door to open so you have the chance to prove yourself. You have probably already worked with your counselors on preparing an engaging resume. What is just as important is having an engaging cover letter. Following are some tips on how to write a cover letter for new graduates.
What Is the Purpose of a Cover Letter (Speaking Specifically of Cover Letter for New Graduates)?
Think of the resume as the “formal you” and the cover letter as the “friendly you.” The you that someone wants to work with. We all know those people who are able to be professional but also easy to work with and be with. Those are the people we want on our team.
It can be a hard balance to strike, but it’s an important one. If your resume showcases all your experience, then your cover letter showcases your personality.
What Should Go in It?
Ideally a cover letter is going to engage them to open your resume so they can see the real “meat.” The goal is to create a letter that’s so enticing that they want to know more about you, which they will find in your resume. So don’t spend the time in your letter repeating your resume since they are going to receive that too. Here’s what you can cover, in a succinct fashion:
- Your work history: You want to highlight all the parts of your work history that are the most enticing. So if you’ve had an internship, you can talk about the experience and include a few more details of how you felt and what you learned.
- Your interest in the job: This is also the place to highlight what about the job interests you. You should do some background research on the company to ensure that you are tailoring it specifically to the place you are approaching. That extra bit of data and familiarity can really make you stand out and confirm to the recipient that you have spent time researching and are not just blindly sending resumes.
- Your qualifications: While your resume will include these, again, they are usually listed more formally in that structure. Your cover letter allows you to match up your skills with those listed in the job posting. So, you can show how your expertise and experience match what they are looking for. You can even mention each main qualification they listed, and draw a line to how it refers to you.
- Other information: Attach your resume, but also point them to your LinkedIn profile or other social media sites if you have them, as well as a portfolio or samples of your work if they are online.
A cover letter for new graduates doesn’t need to be as substantive as that of an experienced worker. Don’t worry too much about experience if you’re lacking in this regard and emphasize motivation, positive attitude and potential.
What if I Don’t Meet the Qualifications?
Chances are good that you are not going to meet every qualification in the job description. They are looking for an ideal person, so that’s what they list, but that person probably doesn’t exist. But, it’s key to highlight what you CAN offer. If they request three years of sales experience and you only have two, focus your information on what a great team member you were and how you were always going above and beyond to do other tasks in slow periods.
If they are looking for a computer language you don’t have, then it’s fine to only mention the ones you do have. No need to point out where you fall short; the goal of the cover letter is to entice them to want to meet you, not give them a reason to rule you out.
What if I Don’t Have Any Work History at All?
Sometimes graduates have been so busy with their school work and activities that they don’t have any formal work experience. Or, at least they think they don’t! Most people can find an activity that used skills that can be easily parlayed into the skills needed in a work situation. It’s your job to draw the parallels for the interviewer.
For example, if you were active in a service club, point out how you learned a lot about fundraising and event planning and management. If you were a member of a sports team, mention that you learned important skills like teamwork, time management and efficiency, all important skills to succeeding when juggling your school life – and crucial skills in the workplace. If you had a job like babysitting or landscaping for neighbors, it’s still a job. Those clients can serve as references, and you can make sure to mention all the business skills you learned, from marketing to time management to accounting. Also, don’t overlook class projects. Many times schoolwork is so advanced that it can add up to the equivalent of real-world work. Make sure to cite particularly pertinent courses you took and also highlight any projects you did that might correlate with the work you’ll be doing. You might have to get creative but it’s likely you have some transferable skills that will at least allow them to give you a chance.
Cover letters can be tricky to master. Just remember that the goal is to shine a light on those parts of your history that are most appealing. The job of a good cover letter is to get them to take the next step – opening your resume and inviting you for an interview. That’s where you can really let your skills and personality shine through. But, without a compelling cover letter, you might not be asked to take that next step.
by Cathie Ericson