Writing a cover letter for your first grad job can be daunting when you’re competing with scores of other applicants with similar or even better qualifications than you. Whether you're applying for that one dream job or every position available, you'll need a killer cover letter to stand out from the crowd.
The purpose of a cover letter is to show your employer why you are perfect for this particular job and highlight your individuality from the sea of other graduates also applying to entry-level jobs.
Unlike a generic CV, a good cover letter should outline how your studies make you relevant to work in the field, what unique skills you have to match the job criteria and your reasons for wanting to work in a particular company.
If you’re struggling to write a letter that checks all the right boxes, read our 'Dos and Don'ts' before applying and you're certain to stand a fighting chance:
- Base your cover letter on the job specification - pick out keywords and themes to guide your cover letter. This will show you really understand the position you're applying for and have the relevant skills to fill the criteria. If the job calls for teamwork, highlight your experience in sports teams or societies. If it requires having an eye for detail, offer examples of times when you proved yourself to be detail-oriented.
- Show your individuality - your cover letter is your opportunity to impress your future employer with all the unique things you've done that make you perfect for the role. Volunteering or work experience? Relevant classes? Extracurricular interests? Make sure to tie these into the job specification to show why you - above anyone else - should get the position. Remember you are competing with other graduates so be sure to sell yourself here.
Allow your individual talents to shine through. Source: Giphy
- Refer to the broader company philosophy - a company is often defined by its people and work culture, something that's unique in every organisation. Make sure you research the company's philosophy and explain how you'll add value in your letter. This will show your employer you understand the context of the position and are committed to making a more extensive contribution.
- Write a cover letter even if the job doesn’t require it - sometimes a job application will only ask for a CV, but writing a letter anyway could indicate to employers your ability to go above and beyond what's required. If there isn’t an option to upload a cover letter, you can condense the main points into approximately five sentences to insert as a ‘Personal Statement’ on your CV. Even if you don’t use the cover letter, it will force you to identify your strengths for the job, which will be invaluable if you get an interview.
- Give yourself time to make edits - you should start writing your cover letter in plenty of time, so you have time to go back and edit. Once you think you’ve finished writing, leave it a few days before rereading. You’ll likely find there are tons of things that need rewriting or improving. Make sure it’s the best it can be before sending it off - after all, you only get one chance to make a first impression!
Try not to be a night owl before the application deadline - get your cover letter written early! Source: Giphy
- Write in clichés - remember that your employer will likely read thousands of graduate cover letters each week. Do you really think they want to hear about how your independent study skills have made you self-sufficient or how studying abroad gave you an international perspective? Be honest and be specific, buzzwords and broad declarations of where your talents lie won't help your case. You want to shine for your individual talents not be tossed aside with all the other recent graduates applying.
Don't be this guy... Source: Giphy
- Submit a generic statement - it can be time-consuming to write a new cover letter for every job you’re applying for, but it will be evident to employers if you’ve written a generic cover letter for every application. Even if all the positions are in the same field, make sure tailor each letter for that particular company; otherwise, you risk looking uncommitted and lazy.
- Undersell yourself - it can feel awkward to say how great you are, especially to a future employer who you could be working with every day - but now is not the time to let anxiety get in your way. If you’re finding it hard to decide why you’re suitable for a job, imagine you're writing the letter for a friend. Express all the best things you’ve done and personality traits that make you an individual, then tie these into the job role and company culture.
- Rush your writing - your cover letter should be written in perfect language with no grammar or spelling mistakes. If you rush writing the letter, you risk making errors and not having time to check over them. This will likely make the wrong impression as you’ll look careless, so take your time to make it the best it can be.
We know applying for grad jobs, and even deciding what to do after graduation can be stressful. If you're still unsure what path is best for you, take our quiz to find out.