Spring is in the air, Summer’s on its way, and so is the season for applying for summer jobs and internships…
Cover letters are a lot like college application essays—an opportunity to tell a potential employer why you are uniquely qualified for the job and elaborate on the skills in your resume. They don’t have to be long, usually a single paragraph will suffice. But like a college application essay, a well-crafted cover letter can make all the difference.
As a high school or college student, you may think you don’t have a lot of professional experiences to put in a cover letter or resume. Don’t panic. You probably have more skills of interest to a potential employer than you realize.
Consider your academic experiences both in and out of the classroom. Make a list of the skills you have collected along the way. Be specific.
Are you comfortable on a computer? If you’re applying for an office position, familiarity with Microsoft Office, Excel, Adobe, and PowerPoint are a must-have. Depending on the position, experience coding or creating charts, tables, and pivot tables may be of particular interest. Similarly, an employer might like to know if you’ve done in-depth research, compiled and accurately entered data into a spread sheet or database.
Have you balanced a complex and busy schedule without being late, missing a class, or event? Have you met competing deadlines? While you may take these skills for granted, employers want to know that you’ll be punctual, organized, and able to get things done.
Do you have experience as a member of a team? Have you tutored, babysat, or grown up in a family with lots of siblings or several generations at home? The workplace is diverse and most employers are looking for employees who can work effectively with people of differing ages, experiences, and skill-levels.
Have you sold wrapping paper, cookies, or candy? Handled funds for an event or a club? Did you enjoy it? If you’re applying for a job in retail, you should let a potential employer know that you have experience interacting with people (sales) and are comfortable handling basic financial transactions.
Do you speak a language other than English at home? As the American population becomes more diverse and US companies expand their operations overseas, there’s a growing demand for bilingual and translation skills. Don’t worry that language skills will pigeonhole you—they’re far more likely to help you get your foot in the door.
Don’t forget the most important part…What attracts you to the position?
Employers want to know that you’re excited about becoming a member of their team, so don’t be shy about sharing your passion. Have you always wanted to work outdoors, with animals, to learn about photography or finance? Explain how the position you’re applying for fits in with your interests and future plans. Use specific examples. If the advertisement has descriptions of the environment (fun, fast-paced, demanding) or the type of team member they’re looking for (enthusiastic, go-getter, willing to learn) echo the language.
I’ve been playing baseball since I was seven and my car is always full of bats, balls, and cleats. I would welcome the opportunity to share my enthusiasm for the sport with summer campers.
An aspiring photographer, I’m rarely without my Canon EOS 3. I take photographs for the high school newspaper, yearbook, and for the simple pleasure of it. I would love the opportunity to work with a professional and improve my skills.
As a high school senior accustomed to a demanding academic and extra-curricular schedule, I thrive in fun, fast-paced environments and I love a challenge.
There’s no hard and fast rule about how best to organize a cover letter or internship application. If you have skills that are a strong match for the position, you may want to start your paragraph by describing experiences that show why you think you’d be a good fit and concluding with your “passion” statement. If your skills aren’t a strong match, try using this statement as your opening.
Whatever you do, make sure that if you have a potential employer’s name, you open with Dear Mr./Ms. LastName.
If you don’t have a name, it’s acceptable to use, “to whom it may concern,” or you might use the title of the position as a subject line. For example, Senior Counselor, Camp Summer Adventure, Portland, Maine. Close with a sentence telling your potential employer that you look forward to hearing from him or her soon.
Don’t give up if you don’t hear right away. Follow up!
Have someone proofread your letter AND read it aloud to make sure there are no grammatical errors, spelling errors, or awkward sentence structures. Your cover letter is an employer’s first impression of you; you want to come across as the kind of person who pays attention to detail.
With over two decades of writing experience for the Central Intelligence Agency and the commercial fiction market, multi-published author Joanna Novins understands the importance of hooking the reader with the first line. She also understands the importance of telling a great story, whether it’s about manufacturing solid propellant missiles, happily-ever-after, or how to present yourself. She has extensive experience working with writers of differing skill levels, from senior intelligence analysts and published authors to aspiring authors and high school students. Joanna holds a master’s degree from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and was awarded a bachelor’s degree with honors in history from Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts.