A cover letter is your chance to show enthusiasm for a particular job position and a complimentary marketing document to your resume. Like the resume, a cover letter should stand out, be easily readable, relevant and avoid any spelling mistakes!
In my current Co-op position as Project Assistant for the Faculty of Applied Sciences Co-op, I have attended many cover letter workshops and heard the dos and don’ts from coordinators from different departments. There are a few general principles to keep in mind when writing your cover letter regarding format and content.
Employers are busy people so be sure that your cover letters are never more than one page. Because your letter is your promotional tool, including your “brand” in the header. If you have a main header in your resume, use that in your cover letter to maintain consistency in the look. If you have a well-formatted and clean-looking document, the letter makes a good first impression.
Cover letters have a similar format to an essay in terms of having an introductory paragraph, a body and a conclusion. Don’t be tricked into thinking “it’s only a page, I can whip this up in fifteen minutes.” Employers can spot a template cover letter from a mile away and those students will immediately be disregarded. Every letter you write must be tailored to the job and students can sometimes take a few hours the first few times to write each cover letter.
Many of us have written our opening paragraphs with redundant sentences such as “I am a second-year Communication student who is looking to gain more challenging work experience.” This does not set you apart from other candidates.
Instead, talk about what it is about the company or position that appealed to you. One Co-op student was applying for a research foundation for diabetes and mentioned there was a history of diabetes in her family in her opening paragraph. This kind of introduction shows a personal connection to the work the organization does. There are no hard rules on opening paragraphs to use your creativity to be unique.
The body of the letter is where you identify the most relevant skills to the job position. One thing that will set you apart from average cover letters is providing proof for each skill that you discuss. Anyone can say they have excellent communication and organizational skills, but what is your proof?
Your proof is your experience and the result of your work. For instance, if applying for a marketing position, discuss your experiences in designing material for a club and the outcome of the work.
Many alumni are unsure about how to tailor their cover letters to jobs when entering the workforce. Co-op offers the guidance and support that you need to write effective cover letters so don’t forget to take advantage of these resources.
Review your cover letter with a Co-op student advisor or Co-op coordinator to ensure your letter is ready to be submitted for job positions at a professional level. Happy writing!
Melissa Chungfat now works for WIL as a Student Advisor at SFU Surrey.