Best of the Collegian Blog: Cover Letters, part 2

Here’s an update to Part 2 of our Cover Letter blog post series from last summer:

Second paragraph: Matching Your Qualifications to the Job

Begin your second paragraph by summarizing your two or three most significant experiences. At this point, you should definitely list your college studies. Other experiences can include internships, volunteer experiences, extra-curricular activities, work-study jobs, and leadership positions.

Sample paragraph 2, first sentence template:

Through my studies at (insert college) towards (insert degree and major) and in my (insert 1-2 other experiences), I have had the opportunity to:

Example paragraph 2, first sentence for the Philadelphia Futures Program Assistant Position (see post 1 for disclaimer!):

Through my studies at Millersville University towards my bachelor’s degree in Psychology and my experience as a resident assistant for two years, I have had the opportunity to:

Developing Content for your Cover Letter

This is where you actually can develop a “bank” of content that you can draw from for each cover letter. The best way to develop content for the body of your cover letters is to notice the common skills, qualities, and characteristics that are listed in the jobs for which you are applying. Spend some time on your school’s job website, on idealist.org, or any job site. Browse for jobs that are interesting to you. What do the jobs have in common? Below are the qualifications for three entry level, administrative jobs that require a bachelor’s degree, found on idealist.org in Summer 2014.

Job qualifications

Notice the overlap. I’ve color coordinated the similar requirements in three job postings. Create bullets or sentences that connect something from YOUR resume to one of the qualifications listed. I recommend using bullets because they are easy to skim and get right to the point. You will create a strong introduction for these bullets (see above) but first, develop a bank of bullets that you can use as a starting place for your cover letters. Here are some examples for the positions above.

  • Develop skills working with people from diverse backgrounds, including race/ ethnicity, age, and sexual orientation, through volunteer hours at Einstein Hospital for two summers
  • Hone organizational skills, time management, and attention to detail by balancing a full-time class schedule and a resident assistant position
  • Demonstrate strong written and oral communication skills through thorough and accurate documentation practices as a resident assistant
  • Take initiative and work independently by creating a series of forum discussions about sexual violence on campus while collaborating with residence life staff and the campus women’s center

Once you have created a library of these bullets, you will be able to choose from them based on the qualifications for each job posting. I suggest creating 8-10 strong bullets that you can draw upon when you are drafting your letters. In each cover letter, highlight 3-4 required skills that you have developed and explain how you developed them. Your cover letter connects significant experiences from your resumes to specific skills or experiences the employer is seeking.

Here is how the first paragraph and body of a cover letter for a Philadelphia Futures Program Assistant cover letter might read:

I am writing to express my interest in the Program Assistant position posted on the Philadelphia Futures website. Philadelphia Futures’ mission of working with first-generation students from low-income families is important to me as I recently became the first person in my family to graduate from college. I believe that my personal background, bachelor’s degree in Psychology, and two years’ experience as a resident assistant at Millersville University would make me a great candidate for the Program Assistant position.

Through my studies at Millersville University towards my bachelor’s degree in Psychology and my experience as a resident assistant for two years, I have had the opportunity to:

  • Develop skills working with people from diverse backgrounds, including race/ ethnicity, age, and sexual orientation, through volunteer hours at Einstein Hospital for two summers
  • Hone organizational skills, time management, and attention to detail by balancing a full-time class schedule and a resident assistant position
  • Demonstrate strong written and oral communication skills through thorough and accurate documentation practices as a resident assistant
  • Take initiative and work independently by creating a series of forum discussions about sexual violence on campus while collaborating with residence life staff and the campus women’s center

Your cover letter should highlight 3-4 key skills/ characteristics that you possess AND that the employer is seeking.

An upcoming post on Cover Letter Tips Part 3 will detail writing a strong closing. Check back for that!

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