Your resume is lonely for its BFF…

If you find that you’re applying to internships or full-time positions, or for interview consideration through On-Campus Recruiting, but are not getting the response you seek, it might be that your resume is lonely!

by Jamie Grant, C’98, GEd ’99

If you find that you’re applying to internships or full-time positions, or for interview consideration through On-Campus Recruiting, but are not getting the response you seek, it might be that your resume is lonely!   I don’t say this to be silly (resumes don’t really have feelings…although sometimes I imagine they do cringe under my ferocious editing pencil).  Rather, I encourage you to more carefully consider the value of a well written and individualized cover letter as part of your search – and as a new BFF for your lonely resume.

By sending a resume, through a website, attached to an email, for OCR, without a cover letter, you are giving away your power – to demonstrate your excellent writing skills, to take ownership of how your resume is reviewed, and to persuade your recipient that YOU are the best candidate for the opportunity at hand.   Like a boat without a rudder or a car without a GPS, your resume alone can lack obvious direction and easily get “lost” amongst the many applications a recruiter may receive in this competitive job market.  This is especially true if you are applying to an opportunity not directly related to your major or your background – without a cover letter, how might your reader understand how someone with your skills, background and experience could be an ideal candidate, and not just dismiss you outright because you’re not the most obvious fit?

My advice?  Don’t leave it up to your recipient to draw conclusions or make assumptions as to how you are the best candidate for the job.  Take control and exercise your job seeking power – use the job description, company website, or any other resources you can find to help you understand the type of candidate the organization is seeking, and spend time carefully drafting a cover letter – or the body of an email, or even text to include in the “Miscellaneous Comments” box on the web application – to accompany your resume.  Explain exactly how you are the person to add value to the firm and inspire your reader to contact you for more details, and hopefully an interview!  Trust me, your resume will be much more impactful, productive – and thankful! – if you don’t send it out into the world alone.

Top Cover Letter No-Nos (in no particular order!)

By Barbara Hewitt

It’s that time of year and Career Services counselors have been reading LOTS of cover letters and resumes for the upcoming internship recruiting season. Many are well crafted and thoughtful letters, but then there are the others – those that we cringe at the thought of a recruiter reading. In that context, I thought I would share some of my “cover letters no-nos” through the blog this week.

Typos and poor grammar. Your cover letter is a writing sample and testament to your attention to detail and communication skills. If it is littered with mistakes and poorly written, no employer will want to hire you, regardless of the many other ways in which you may be well-qualified for the position.

Wrong length. A cover letter should be long enough to adequately convey your interest in the position and highlight your qualifications for it. An extremely brief letter does neither and will indicate to the employer that you are not enthusiastic enough about the position to take the time to articulate that interest through a well written cover letter. On the other hand, it should not be your life’s story written in a tiny font on a page with miniscule margins. Employers often get hundreds of applications for a single position, and they simply don’t have the time to comb through extremely long cover letters. A one page letter in a reasonably sized font (10 to 12 pt) and standard one inch margins should do the trick. Most letters will have four or five paragraphs.

Unfocused. Keep in mind that a cover letter is (usually) your opportunity to express your interest in a SPECIFIC position and a SPECIFIC employer. Read the job description thoroughly, ascertain what qualities the employer particularly wants candidates to posses, and then demonstrate through the letter that you have those qualities. Research the employer to learn more about the organization and be sure to indicate why you are particularly interested in them. Avoid vague phrases like “I would be thrilled to work for such an industry leader.”  Why do you consider them a leader? Let them know if you’ve talked to people who work at the organization or attended an information session (and, of course, what impressed you in these interactions).

Wrong Tone. It can be hard to get the right “tone” for a cover letter. On one hand, you want to be confident in expressing your qualifications for the position. After all, if you don’t think you can do the job, the reader surely won’t either. On the other hand, you don’t want to come across as arrogant and oversell yourself. I am always taken aback when I read in a cover letter that an applicant is “confident that they are the best candidate for the position”. This is a determination the employer will make, and it is presumptuous for an applicant to make it on his or her own candidacy. (After all, the applicant hasn’t even seen the other resumes!) Saying something like “I believe my skills and past work experiences make me a good fit for this position” relays the same message in a more understated way.

Writing strong cover letters requires time and effort, but will pay off in the long run in terms of more interviews, and ultimately, job offers. For more information on cover letters (and samples), check out the cover letter guide on the undergraduate portion of the Career Services website:

I Don’t Know What to Write…Help!

By: David Ross

We all have those moments when we’re working on something and just don’t know how to get started. As a counselor, I’ll receive several questions about cover letters. What are they? What should be included? What are recruiters and hiring managers looking for? What makes a strong cover letter? How do I write the best, most unique, outstanding cover letter ever written? Slight exaggeration – but people always want to know this.

So why cover letters? What the’s purpose? A cover letter is a great chance to tell your story – not a detailed autobiography from childhood, but your story. Ideally you can use this forum to give more insight into your background – skills, qualifications, experience and convince an employer to interview you for a position. A strong, well written cover letter by itself will not get you hired but may be helpful as one piece of your application for a position.

What are areas or topics to cover in a letter? You want to think carefully about your education (not only majors/minors/classes, but also projects/cases/presentations), activities and of course work experiences. Identify the most relevant things you’ve done and highlight them in your cover letter.

Another thing that’s easy to overlook is your interest in the employer and organization. It’s natural to assume that because you’re applying for a position that you are demonstrating interest and the employer realizes this. However, that does not explain the rationale or motivation behind why you want to work for a certain company or organization in a specific role. You may actually make your letter more memorable if you express your reasons for being interested in the position. If you can include something interesting you’ve found in your research on the company, even better. But of course avoid common, trite generalities here.

Having read many cover letters and cover letter drafts, I would recommend avoiding the following pitfalls. Number one – try to avoid using a negative tone and do not draw attention to your weaknesses or flaws. Your letter should focus on reasons to bring you in for an interview not the opposite. Number two – avoid going on tangents and dwelling too much on a single experience. You may have a very interesting and unique example to share, which is great. But try not to get caught up on providing a lengthy, detailed account of a single experience. Your letter should cover a few key areas of interest to the employer opposed to one particular experience. Number three – try not to write things just because you think the employer wants to see them. You do want to focus on the things an employer values in a candidate, but make the cover letter your story. Let your letter reveal something about you that may not be readily evident. And number four, do not restate verbatim what is listed on your resume. You can certainly expand on a few items on your resume or consider adding information to supplement what’s listed on your resume.