Career Management


Phase 3, Step 10 - Draft a Cover Letter Template

It is necessary that you tailor your cover letter for every application. Employers want to see a cover letter that demonstrates how your experience relates to the job posting.

Drafting a great cover letter will take a lot of practice! Most cover letters will be batched into four piles by employers or hiring managers: 1) No cover letter included 2) Too generic or not applicable 3) Decent 4) Great. The key to having a decent cover letter is to follow the prescribed formula and customize every single cover letter. The key to a great cover letter is to really love the company to which you are applying, to show your enthusiasm, value-add and knowledge of the company and the particular job. When a company asks for a resume, most expect you to also include a cover letter. Candidates who include a customized cover letter REALLY stand out. When we poll recruiters, 50% do not read cover letters and go straight to the resume. The other 50% read the cover letter first and are looking for passion before they read the resume. Of the recruiters who don’t read cover letters – they admit that many of their hiring managers do.

Your resume shows your qualifications. The cover letter (or lack thereof) demonstrates your interest and enthusiasm for the position. Employers want qualified applicants who are enthusiastic about the job and have done enough research to show how they can add extra value. One MBA-P student who recently went through a job search put it this way: “Five years ago, employers would ask for 10 items and settle for 7 or 8.  Now, employers are holding out for all 10 of the qualifications on the list.” Several recruiters responded to that adding that they are finding that employers are actually holding out and hiring those that have one to 3 additional qualifications beyond the original list of 10. Your cover letter is your opportunity to show what you have the qualifications beyond the list of 10.

Deliverable for GSM5108: Draft a customized cover letter for the mock internship for which you will apply (see WISE for the list of possible internships). Ask your PCA to review before turning it in.  Most students need 3-5 revisions before having a great cover letter.

Questions to Ask You:

  1. Imagine you are the hiring manager, why would you be selected from the pool of candidates?
  2. What are the expressed qualifications for the job?
  3. What else do you know about this organization from your research that would make you an ideal candidate?
  4. How can you uniquely add value to this employer?
  5. What are some of the challenges this company faces in this marketplace? How can this role expand to help this organization meet that challenge?
  6. Who are the company’s competitors? What are the unique strengths of   his organization that makes their product more attractive to you as a consumer? As a client? Or their organization as a job candidate?

Going Deeper:

  • Start with a generic cover letter following the Cover Letter samples in WISE.
  • Paragraph one should answer who, what, why and how questions showing your company research and ending in your value proposition. Paragraph two should have examples of the 3 things in your value proposition that make you a great candidate.  Paragraph three has a closing. Typically, the closings do not need too much customization.
  • Consider the greeting. NEVER send a cover letter ‘To Whom it May Concern” – Nobody will read it as it appears that you did not do your homework and screams “GENERIC”. Always find a name of someone to send it to, even if the only name you can find is the President of the organization.
  • Update your opening paragraph. Sentence number one should reach out and grab the reader, compelling them to read on. The middle of this paragraph should answer who, what, why and how questions, remember to mention names of who referred you. The final sentence should be a teaser for the middle paragraph often giving a big picture statement about why you are the best candidate with details followed up in your middle paragraph.
  • Think carefully about your middle paragraph. What is completely unique about you that might give you that extra one to 3 qualifications that they didn’t ask for? Is it enthusiasm for their brand? Is it prior experience? Spell it out for them while weaving in how you match what you perceive to be your three top qualifications. Read plenty of samples and make yours unique. There’s nothing worse than having only altered a sample slightly and find out that the other 3 candidates from Willamette did the same thing with the same sample.
  •  Read your own cover letter and consider…does this cover letter tell my story clearly and succinctly and show how I can add extra value to the employer? If not, go back and redraft.
  • Finally, have a friend or colleague proof-read your document before sending. There is something about cutting and pasting, editing and customizing that makes it easy to have typos that we don’t see or track changes that did not erase. Pay particular attention to grammar! Make sure the person you ask to review your cover letter is a native English speaker (American). Attend a writing workshop where grammar will be focused upon in more detail.
  • As you prepare to email you application to remember to professionalize your email. The subject line should have the job name, number and candidate name. Your resume should be named “Last name_resume_company name and job number.pdf”, as should your cover letter. If you have a cover letter attached, the email body can be short and sweet.
  • If a company does not request a cover letter, your email can be the cover letter. Say the same thing, but in a more condensed format showing your research, your top 3 bullet points and your enthusiasm.