Job searches can be tough for anyone, but for a recent university or college graduate with no work experience, they may feel downright daunting. While much emphasis is placed on crafting the perfect resume, your cover letter can be equally important for landing your first job.
Like a firm handshake, your cover letter can make a great (or not so great) first impression on the recruiter. When well-written, it has the potential to pique your potential employer’s interest before they even review your resume. Entry-level cover letters can be particularly valuable as they take focus away from your lack of work experience, and shine a light on your relevant skills and character traits. And, unlike a resume, a cover letter can be written in a more casual tone to reflect your personality.
It’s in your best interest to invest time and effort into crafting a unique cover letter for each application. Not sure how to get started? We’ve got you covered. Read on for tips on how to write a cover letter to help you stand out as a top candidate and make a solid first impression––even if you have little to no work experience.
We know it can be tempting to skip the cover letter, especially if the recruiter doesn’t specify the need for one. However, as an applicant with little to no experience, submitting one with your resume is especially important. A cover letter connects your skills and personal qualities to the job requirements and company culture. It helps the recruiter recognize what you bring to the role, and why you want it. The letter can also convey soft skills like work ethic, creativity, and attention to detail.
Writing a good cover letter takes time and effort for every applicant, regardless of how much work experience one has. If writing isn’t your strong suit, it can be even more of a struggle. However, a clear and detailed letter indicates to the employer that you take the job application seriously, and will likely bring that same commitment to the role.
Thankfully, there is a way to simplify the writing process by sticking to a basic structure for every cover letter. If you want to take the guesswork out altogether, Prepped offers topnotch cover letter templates for beginners.
Whether you rely on a template or not, every cover letter should be one page long and consist of three to four paragraphs. Here’s a rundown of what to include:
Begin with a greeting to the recipient of your application, along with the recipient’s job title. If the job description does not include a contact name, investigate online (i.e., LinkedIn) to determine the correct name. As a last resort, use a generic greeting, such as “Dear Hiring Manager.”
Your opening paragraph is an opportunity to make a strong first impression. Explain who you are, the position you’re interested in and, if appropriate, how you discovered the job. Be sure to include the name of the organization so the recruiter sees this is not a generic cover letter. Overall, you want to convey you’re excited about the role.
The second paragraph can feel overwhelming for an applicant with little to no work experience. But don’t panic—this is the perfect place to showcase what you do offer that can’t be easily conveyed in your resume. Consider accomplishments from your academic, part-time or volunteer work that may relate to the role. Also think about personal experiences that show you’re a stellar candidate.
You have only a few sentences, so be selective in what you include to get your point across clearly. Simply writing, “I have good time management skills” isn’t enough; back your claims with concrete examples. This section can take up two paragraphs, but keep in mind recruiters review hundreds of similar applications—keep it succinct and to the point.
In the final paragraph, thank the recruiter for taking the time to review your application and invite a call to action (rather than demand it). Indicate you’d be pleased to further discuss your qualifications in an interview.
As you draft your cover letter, keep these additional tips in mind to ensure you feature the very best you have to offer and don’t simply repeat the contents of your resume.
Review more than the job posting. Investigate the organization’s mission, values, and objectives. Do you align with them? Is there an opportunity to reflect this in your cover letter?
While you may not have concrete work experience, many organizations place great value in soft skills and personality traits. Consider transferable skills and qualifications developed through academics, internships, part-time or volunteer work, or even personal interests.
Companies typically understand that a recent graduate lacks workplace experience. They want to know you’re willing to learn. Show you have the desire and commitment put in the work that’s necessary to fulfill the job expectations.
Do you know a mentor or teacher who can vouch for you? Or someone who works in the organization?
Keep your cover letter succinct and avoid repetition. It’s better to keep it short and to the point, rather than longer and lacking focus. Similar to a resume summary, clarity and focus are key.
Refrain from rehashing the information that’s in your resume. The cover letter introduces you to the recruiter and tells your story. The resume gives details for more in-depth review. Resumes have their own list of do’s and don’ts to keep in mind.
Be sure to use a greeting with the actual name of the recruiter (if you can find it), and the name of the organization in the opening paragraph. Including a personal touch, such as why you’re excited to work for the organization, is also a good idea.
If the job you’re applying for relates to your academic background, be sure to include this in your cover letter. Keep it relevant to the job, and specific.
Review the job posting carefully for keywords and even tips or challenge words to include in your cover letter and resume. This can improve your odds of getting through ATS software. Too much work? Save yourself the stress and optimize your application with Prepped Premium’s Resume Scanner.
A well-written, typo-free cover letter conveys professionalism and attention to detail. Never skip this important final step.
While searching for a first job can be an onerous task, it’s also an exciting leap into your new career. A cover letter offers the perfect opportunity to show your excitement for a job, as well as bring focus to your unique qualifications and qualities. If you’re feeling a wee bit stressed, let us help lower your heart rate. You don’t have to figure it all out on your own! Sign up for Prepped to take advantage of our free job search features, and Prepped Premium or Premium Plus for even more features for active job seekers.