Writing a Cover Letter
The Importance of the Cover Letter
Resumes can give an overview of your career, but a cover letter can tell a story about specific, relevant experience to the job you’re applying to. They're also a chance to show off your personality. Why would you want to skip this opportunity?
Your cover letter should be targeted to a specific job opportunity, relating your experience to that job posting. Keep it short and sweet — aim for three to five paragraphs — with each paragraph focusing on an aspect of why you’re a good fit for the job.
Read the job description carefully, so your cover letter really speaks to the requested qualifications. You want to make it clear why you'd be beneficial to the employer in the position.
Cover Letter Tips
- Include your contact info at the top, in the same format as your resume.
- If you do not have a contact to address your letter to, use Dear Hiring Manager, To Whom It May Concern, or Dear Human Resources Director.
- Paragraph one introduces you and your interest in the position. It entices the employer to read further.
- Paragraph two/three details what you can offer the employer based on the job description. It highlights your experience, knowledge, and skills.
- The final paragraph closes your letter by briefly restating your interest in the position/organization and thanks the employer for his/her consideration.
For more tips, download the Cover Letter Checklist.
How to Tailor Your Cover Letter
Using the job description as a reference, highlight the three things they’re asking for that seem most important — as in, you couldn’t get hired if you didn’t have them. Maybe that’s familiarity with a niche field, or great writing abilities, or leadership talent. Choose the job experience where you utilized those traits and how you’d apply those skills and insight to this position. And if you don’t have the exact skill they’re looking for, use the closest example you have.
Below is a list a responsibilities found in a job description for a Merchanidize Manager, Shoes for a major retailer. Key skills are bolded and italicized in the job description.
Example Job Description
- Ability to both react to current business as well as anticipate future trends1.
- Clear understanding of the Nordstrom product aesthetic and brand point of view and understanding of brand positioning in the market2.
- Stay on top of runway shows, emerging brands, and blogging to hold trend dialogue with the design team, help the brand stay relevant, and hopefully predict the next ‘big thing’3.
- Create a clear pricing structure that ties perceived value, quality, and retail pricing together.
- Act as the hub4 between the channels of production, design, inventory planning, and buying. This will require attention to detail, effective time management, and excellent communication skills.
Now we'll show you how you might use the bolded and italicized skills in the job description and related them to your own experiences in your cover letter. They have also been bolded and italicized but you should not do that in your cover letter.
Example Cover Letter Excerpt
This past summer I was a Merchandising Intern with Old Navy and developed an understanding of sales, inventory planning2, and retail operations. I collaborated with a five-person team4 to create weekly reports to enhance sales and analyze industry trends1. My biggest accomplishment in this role was my final project where I predicted seven growing fashion trends3 and created a plan for Old Navy to incorporate these into their new line.
There’s no arguing that it takes longer to compose a custom cover letter for each application than just changing out the employers names in a canned one. But if you care about getting the job, personalizing each one is the way to go.
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