As the end of the school year approaches, focus for many business school students turns to finding their first full-time job. Unfortunately, many entry-level hopefuls leave their cover letters to the last minute or hand in the same generic version with each job application.
What they don't realize is that many employers consider a cover letter to be just as important — or more important — as a resume. A cover letter is where you can show that you're ambitious, that you understand what the business does, and that you'll be an asset to the organization.
In an episode of the Work and Life podcast, Basecamp CEO Jason Fried said that a resume doesn't address what someone's capable of doing in the future. "We're always about getting to the realest possible thing, so we can cut through all the fog and find out if this person can do what they say," says Fried. That's why a solid cover letter is key.
Business and communication skills
Showing off your communication skills is one of the most important jobs of your cover letter. No matter what area of the business world you hope to enter, employers are on the hunt for applicants who can communicate clearly and effectively. Are you able to sell yourself in a brief, well-written and thoughtful letter? If you're unsure, check out our Business Cover Letter Examples for inspiration.
As Fried says, if the job search comes down to two candidates with similar experience, "We will always hire the better writer." Even excellent writers need to tailor their cover letters for each position. Sending out a generic, impersonal cover letter will most likely damage your chances of getting the job.
Using your cover letter to stand out
The job market has never been better for business majors. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers Job Outlook 2018 survey, eight of the top 10 majors in demand by employers fall into the business category, up from six majors in 2017.
But with increased opportunity comes increased competition. When Ohio State senior Riley Markins began her job search, she focused her cover letters on her two specific skill sets: financial services and fashion marketing. As a new graduate of the Fisher College of Business, Markins sent resumes and cover letters to several companies, but she took the extra step of tailoring her cover letter with specific information based on each company's background and the skills they wanted to see.
For more traditional, buttoned-up companies in the finance world, Markins stuck with a more traditional cover letter template for her cover letter. For the fashion companies, she used more creative design elements and modern fonts.
Tips for building a strong entry-level business student cover letter
"[Job-hunting is] a competitive and stressful process," says Markins. "I was looking for any way to make my letter distinct and more memorable."
Fortunately, she succeeded. Here are some tips Markins shared for recent business graduate cover letters:
- Highlight leadership positions.
Businesses want new hires with initiative and the ability to work well with others. Holding a leadership position speaks to your interpersonal skills, ability to collaborate and decisiveness in making sound decisions.
- Include relevant coursework.
When applying to investment firms like Ameriprise, Markins made sure to reference her finance classes in her cover letter. For her application to online fashion retailer Olivela, she instead focused on her marketing coursework. Tailor your cover letter to the skills each employer values most.
- Present your diverse skills.
Markins minored in psychology with a focus on consumer behavior, a knowledge area that can be useful in both industry sectors. "I felt it was important to highlight how well rounded I was as a student," she says. "It gave me some depth behind the nuts and bolts of my business major."
- Do your research.
Show off your business skills by highlighting something the company did that you noticed and appreciated. This will show that you have a genuine interest in the company and a keen eye. In her Olivela cover letter, Markins mentioned a 2017 ad campaign that sparked her interest in the company. "I think it definitely helped me get an interview," she says. "My future boss had obviously read my letter, and we talked more at length about that campaign and subsequent marketing efforts."
- Talk about relevant internships.
This one is a no brainer. Pick out a specific experience from that internship to highlight in your cover letter. Markins did a summer internship with a small investment company before graduating, and she found that she loved interacting with customers, rather than working behind the scenes. "That, along with my psychology degree, helped me hone the area of finance I wanted to be in," she says.
Are you a business major who needs help crafting the perfect resume and cover letter for business graduates? Use Live Career's Cover Letter Builder and Resume Builder tools, then catch the hiring manager's eye and score your first job in business.