While most students now know what a résumé is and how to write a simple one, the cover letter remains the lesser known but also important companion. Instead of a list of facts and tangible information, cover letters require more thought and creativity, but are restricted by the limits of a professional business letter. This article is meant to let you know what internship coordinators are looking for in a cover letter. It’s also what your future employers will be looking for.
Ensure it has a professional outlook
Before potential employers even read an applicant’s cover letter, they notice the overall formatting and appearance of the letter. The format must be clean, precise, and professional. Limit the letter to a standard page with enough room for a signature. Also use a font size of 11 or 12 Times New Roman with minimum use of bold or italics in the font style.
There are two ways to send your cover letter: as the body of an email or as an attachment. If you are sending it as the body of an email, ensure that it still has a full, professional greeting and an appropriate closing. Never greet prospective employers with an impersonal tone like “Hi” or “Hey”. If you are sending your cover letter as an attachment, it can be attached as a MS Word or PDF file.
The body of the email should contain an instructional statement like, “Please see the attached cover letter and CV…” Lastly, properly label any attachments with your last name and the title of the attachment. For instance, a cover letter attachment should be labeled “Tunde Cover Letter.” Do not label attachments with overly descriptive or wordy names – be brief and concise when labeling.
Keep it Business-like
It’s easy to forget that the cover letter is actually a business letter. As a result, applicants must use a business tone, regardless of the industry they’re applying to. It doesn’t matter if you are applying to the most creative position in the fashion or advertising industry; the letter is still a business letter.
It might be okay to have some fun with the writing if you are applying to a writing-focused position (think advertising or magazine writing), but it’s far more advisable to demonstrate your creativity in an attached portfolio or writing sample, rather than in the letter.
This being said, don’t be a robot; it’s important that you maintain a professional tone while showcasing your personality. This comes down to finding the balance between professionalism and personality.
Not the organizations address, although this is important but the person you’re writing to. This might seem a minute detail, but it can affect how potential employers read your application. Addressing a cover letter as “To whom it may concern” or “Dear Sir” is impersonal, and is generally not favored.
Try to write to a specific individual who is associated with the job position you are applying for – Google and Linkedin are your friends in this regard. Serious professionals and those who work in Human Resources usually have a professional profile online. If this information isn’t listed in the job description or on the company’s website, it’s time to exercise your networking skills. Network to find a specific person to write to. You can even call the company’s main number and asking for the appropriate person’s name and title. The bottom line is that you should do whatever you have to in order to avoid the infamous “To whom it may concern.”
Why are you writing?
The first paragraph of the cover letter should be short and straight to the point, stating why you are writing in clear, unambiguous terms. Think of it as a personal introduction to a person (and company) that doesn’t know anything about you. Include your name, the school you attend, what you are studying, the position you are applying for and how you found out about the position.
Now it doesn’t seem so hard does it? Just remember that the words you choose say a lot about you; so don’t rush through writing this short paragraph. While it may seem inhibitive to fully expressing yourself, it is still an opportunity to let your personality show through.
An ideal first paragraph would read something like this:
“I am writing to express my interest in the 2014 Future Leaders Program for Unilever as detailed on the Unilever website. Currently, I am a student of Mass Communication at the Yaba College of Technology. My prior experiences with corporate communications as well as my various student leadership roles make me a strong candidate for the program.
Align yourself with the position or company
This is by far the most important part of the cover letter. It’s important to never lose sight of the job description while writing. Try mentioning 2-3 things found in the job description and tie them into your resume and your experience. For example, if the internship you are applying for requires graphic designing skills and you used Photoshop or Corel Draw to design a CD cover or posters in school, state it in the cover letter. This allows potential employers to visualize who you are and what the extent of your capabilities may be. This enables you to stand out as an applicant.
Word choice and phrasing are extremely important in this section of the cover letter. This might be cliché but never overemphasize what the job will do for you. Instead, take the opposite approach and emphasize how you will be an asset to the company. Companies want employees who will add value to the organization, so let them know that you are capable of just that.
Make your conclusion heartfelt
It is hard to make the conclusion of a cover letter not seem robotic but it’s possible to get some humaneness into it. Start by reiterating your interest in the position and the company. You can also remind the company about why you would make a good fit for the specific position.
One example of a strong conclusion would be something along the lines of this:
“In addition to my academic qualifications and prior experience in the industry, I also believe that my résumé exhibits strong potential for further accomplishment in the publishing industry. For these reasons, I feel that I would be an asset to your company as an intern.”
Don’t say that you are the ‘best person’ for the position because you have no way of knowing if you are the best person. Find other ways to express that you would be a good fit.
Finally, conclude by expressing your willingness in hearing from them and suggest a future meeting in person. Remind them of your email address as well as phone number, so that they can easily follow-up with you. Also, never write that you will follow-up with them. This comes off as threatening and most employers like to be the ones in charge of follow-ups. If you are right for the job, the company will most definitely let you know.
Tailor your cover letters
Never give in to the one-size-fits-all mentality when writing cover letters. Bear in mind that each cover letter you write should be different and tailored to the company or position you are applying to. The cover letter is an opportunity for you, to present yourself and why you would be a valuable asset to the company. With that said, this should change with each and every position and employer.
Your introductory statement should change as well as your motive for writing, depending on the position. The parts of your resume that you choose to highlight in the cover letter should also change depending on the job description.
If you find that two or three of your cover letters are looking identical, it is time to sit back, get your creative juices flowing, and work on tailoring each piece of writing.
If it so happens that you are using the same cover letter template, ensure you double and triple check that you have replaced the company’s name where applicable. Don’t fall into the trap of addressing a letter meant for MTN to First Bank
Avoid spelling errors and typos
Pretty self-explanatory, but if you are serious about particular internship or job, then employers will assume that you will have taken the time to carefully check and recheck your cover letter for any mistakes. These can range from simple grammatical and spelling errors to misinformation about the company. Make sure you critically examine ALL aspects of your letter.
Try reading backwards when editing for grammar and spelling errors. That way the content of the letter will not get in the way of your editing. You don’t know if a perfectionist will be the one reading your letter, so always imagine you’re writing to a perfectionist, just in case.
Always remember the purpose of the cover letter while you are writing: to communicate to an employer, in a personalized and original message, why you would be an asset to the company. One of the best ways to create a great cover letter is to constantly remind yourself why you are writing it. This ensures that you will avoid making all your cover letters look like they’re mass produced. It may seem like a lot to remember for a page-long letter, but if you pay attention to these simple things, you just might get the internship or job of your dreams.