We all know that a well-crafted cover letter can help a job-seeker stand out from others, but most of the cover letters for new grads I’ve seen in my recruitment career read more or less the same. A lot of candidates simply repeat what I can already see on their resume and many clearly send the same cover letter when applying for different jobs.
It’s not uncommon to see (for example) a cover letter of someone applying to work to work at, say, Amazon, when sending their resume and cover letter to Expedia! Such a lack of attention to detail won’t get you an interview, so here are some tips and techniques which will significantly increase your chances of getting the interview call.
In the first part of this article, I provide some quick tips for writing cover letters for new grads. Then, I go on to explain in details the information that should be included, as well as what should be left out.
Quick tips for Writing Cover Letters for New Grads:
- Keep your industry in mind when choosing a cover letter design/template, i.e. a simple design for conservative industries, or one with more color or flair for creative fields.
- Reviewing cover letter samples from professionals in your industry can help provide inspiration for cover letters for new grads – just make you don’t simply copy someone else’s work!
- Keep your cover letter concise and to the point – half a page max in most cases unless specific instructions ask for a longer supporting statement. You don’t have to include everything about yourself, and you should not include anything that’s not relevant.
- Proofread your resume and cover letter. Put them down for a few hours, come back, and proofread again. Then, get a friend or family member with a good eye to proof them for you.
- Make your cover letter (and resume!) reader-friendly. This means white space, reasonable margins, and bullet points for readability. Use a font size that’s large enough to read, which means nothing smaller than 10.5 point.
- Finally, using a professional cover letter builder can make it super simple to create effective cover letters for new grads.
The 5 Sections of a New Grad Cover Letter
A well-formatted cover letter is critical to new grads getting noticed by hiring managers. Using a cover letter builder or cover letter templates are both great ways to ensure you include all of the essential elements, including:
- A Personalized Greeting: Do you research to find the name of the hiring manager. Personalization makes a difference.
- An Eye-Catching Opening Paragraph: The first paragraph can be the deciding factor in whether a recruiter continues to read your letter. Make it engaging.
- A Value-based Second Paragraph: This section explains what you have to offer the company. Start by explaining how your qualifications are a match to the company’s job requirements.
- Compelling Body Copy: Your cover letter’s body should be short paragraphs or a bulleted list of your most relevant hard and soft skills, qualifications, or examples of your accomplishments.
- Persuasive Closing Paragraph(s): This is where you seal the deal. The last paragraph reiterates why you are the right person for the job, requests an interview, and thanks the hiring manager for reviewing your qualifications.
Cover Letters for New Grads: 9 Tips for Success
Research the name of the hiring manager
Wherever possible, address your cover letter to a specific person. It will not always be possible to find out who the hiring manager or recruiter is but avoid a generic “To whom it may concern” salutation. It’s better not to address anybody and just jump right into writing the cover letter.
Mention the job title
This should go in the first paragraph, along with a line or two about what motivated you to apply, and why you’re interested in working for the company. If you’re applying for a job or an internship in a city other than where you live, make it clear that you’re planning to be there during the dates of the job.
Customize each cover letter to a specific job posting. Parts of your cover letter might be the same, but as with your resume, it’s important to tailor each of your cover letters for new grads to a specific role.
Demonstrate what will you bring to the table
Ask not what the employer can do for you but what you can do for the employer. Never mention a cliched statement like “I am seeking a challenging position with growth potential” - aren’t we all?
In the second paragraph, explain what you can offer the company. Start by explaining how your qualifications are a match to the company’s job requirements. Employers want to know what you can do for them and how you’ll add value to their company. While they’re not totally oblivious to your career hopes and dreams, your aspirations are not their primary concern.
Match your skills to the job ad
Before you begin writing, take note of the buzzwords/keywords used in the job description and incorporate them into your cover letter. Make sure you do your research on the company – look on their website, blog, social media sites, etc. The more you can demonstrate that you’re familiar with the company, the higher your chances of being invited to the interview.
Keep your cover letter concise and to the point – half a page max in most cases unless specific instructions ask for a longer supporting statement. You don’t have to include everything about yourself, and you should not include anything that’s not relevant.
Describe yourself using powerful adjectives
In the next section, give more details of your personal traits – or soft skills – and how they make you a great candidate for the role. It’s not enough to say that you’re a hard worker or have great organizational skills – many cover letters for new grads are full of similar cliched statements. Use interesting action words to describe your skills and qualities. This can set you apart from the competition.
Incorporate data and metrics
It’s not enough to say that you are an accomplished professional; you need to back-up your skills with examples. Give short but specific examples of those skills. Aim to include at least one tangible achievement and quantify your experience with data wherever possible.
Life experience can be as valuable as work experiences
New grads often don’t have a lot of real-life work experience but that doesn’t automatically mean that they are unqualified.
While coursework usually isn’t necessary to mention unless it’s unusual, academic honors, awards, and activities are great resume content since they show what you'll bring to the table in your next role. You could also talk about your volunteer work or extra-curricular activities, and you might want to include stand-out academic achievements.
These real-life experiences and transferable skills can help a recruiter imagine what you could accomplish in the workplace. For example, if you’ve participated in any university activities that show off your leadership skills or how you’ve successfully worked in teams, these are worth mentioning. Emphasize what you did to set yourself apart and do the job better than anyone else.
Think about transferable skills
While it’s not always easy to come up with major accomplishments on cover letter for new grads, they do exist. It’s just a matter of thinking outside the box. Writing great cover letters for new grads is all about transferable skills.
Let’s say you’ve worked as a restaurant server and won the Employee of the Month award. This is certainly something to mention in your cover letter. In addition, restaurant work requires great customer service skills and communication skills. These soft skills are seen as incredibly valuable transferable skills to employers. Use them to your advantage.
Don’t forget a thank you
In the last paragraph, thank the employer for taking the time to read your application materials and include information on how they can get in touch with you.
I’ve seen a lot of advice advising candidates to say when they’ll get in touch with a potential employer (e.g., “I’ll phone you next Wed at 10 a.m. and hope we can connect.”) Personally - I don’t like that approach. In most of my recruitment jobs, I’d work on 15-25 vacancies at the time. If everyone tried to follow up by phone, I’d never get anything done. However, it’s absolutely okay to follow up on your application if you haven’t heard anything after a few weeks. I talk about how to do it in this LiveCareer article: The Art of Following Up With an Employer.