Creating a cover letter that will catch an employer's eye is an art form. Luckily, unlike sculpting the next statue of David, it's also a craft that everyone can master with a little guidance.
Some recent graduates might just put their coursework on a resume and think they've done enough to land an entry-level job at a company. But a carefully tailored cover letter format highlighting your skills and training can be what gets you that coveted interview, even if you're currently a college student with no experience on your resume. Here are four steps on how to write a cover letter with little to no work experience that explains who you are and why you're the best candidate for the position.
1. Tell a story about yourself
Perhaps you chose a psychology major because of your fascination with how the human brain works. Maybe you were also the president of your school's Model U.N. team because you're obsessed with world events and you possess an ability to distill ideas down into concise sound bites. Those are two incredibly informative and engaging anecdotes, but an employer simply looking at your relevant coursework on a resume will never know about the personality and passion that put you on your career path. Fortunately, there's a place for those stories. Consider your cover letter the space to share a little bit about yourself, as well as to explain the reason you're a good fit for the position.
Author Danny Rubin believes that storytelling may be the key to making a positive impression on a hiring manager. According to Rubin, your cover letter should be memorable and well structured: paragraph one tells the story and paragraph two introduces you and connects the story to what makes you an ideal candidate.
2. Create a customized cover letter
It is essential to write a unique cover letter customized for each position you're applying to. Use the cover letter as a place to highlight:
- Your academic and work experience
- Why this job is right for you
- How your skills and background will improve the organization
Some career pros say to think of your cover letter and resume as "marketing documents," which means you should be showing, in detail, why you're the best candidate for this job.
A generic cover letter isn't likely to carry you to the next round, so avoid stock phrases, clichés, and lists of skills. Instead, creatively craft your experiences into a short, compelling letter that will get you noticed.
3. Think beyond the classroom
You might think that a resume for a college student with no experience will be mostly a list of completed courses and academic achievements, but don't sell yourself short. Don't limit your experience to internships and relevant coursework on your resume either.
Dig a little deeper into the last few years, and you'll likely be able to unearth more experiences than you initially thought. Your resume and college graduate cover letter can also include:
- Part-time jobs
- Volunteering experience
- Leadership positions in teams or social organizations
- Special certifications
If you're applying for an entry-level marketing job, be sure to highlight that semester you handled social media for an on-campus club. But don't stop there: Employers also want to know how you made a difference in whatever position you held. If you increased followers or fundraising dollars, provide those statistics.
When it comes to relevant coursework on a resume, keep it concise. We recommend only listing upper-level classes in your field, as those tend to be more intensive and focused courses. Also include significant projects that directly relate to the role.
If you have a solid GPA, go ahead and include it. But according to Dana Leavy-Detrick of Brooklyn Resume Studio, your GPA will be the first thing to vanish from your resume as you gain more work experience. Employers care much more about what you've accomplished on the job than the grades you received in college.
4. Edit, edit, edit
Your cover letter should be free of mistakes, so do everything in your power to eliminate errors. You can use a self-editing service like Grammarly, ask a friend or family member to read over your letter, or enlist the help of a career-services professional. Keep in mind that running spell check won't necessarily pick up errors like using "form" in place of “from.” These kinds of errors need a more detailed review by multiple sets of eyes.
Make sure your cover letter is a unique document, not merely a regurgitation of your resume. Even if you don't have much professional experience, your cover letter is the perfect place to show off your personality and the skills you've learned along the way. When you're ready to get started, visit LiveCareer to find tips on how to write a cover letter, or use their free Cover Letter Builder.