Finals are winding down and graduation is so close that you can almost envision your tasselled mortar board flying through the air.

If you don’t already have a job or internship, you’re probably looking for one now.

graduation hatWriting a professional cover letter probably is the most difficult part of the application process. It’s difficult to write about yourself, and many students or recent grads have a tendency to sell themselves short because they’re afraid to look like they’re bragging or they don’t think their experiences thus far count. Let’s put that aside right now. Your experiences to date are all you have entering the job market. Hopefully you’ve made the most of them. Either way, if you don’t sell your professional self in the cover letter, no one is going to do it for you.

Here are some tips on how to write a cover letter:

Always include

You must include a cover letter with every application you send. This is the place to sell your professional abilities and explain why you’re a good fit for the job and the organization. You don’t want to miss out on that opportunity.

One size doesn’t fit all

You must write a new cover letter for every job or internship for which you apply. You can reuse some of the basic information from past letters, but you really need to customize each letter to the organization and position to avoid it reading like a generic copy.

Research first

Before you begin to write, find out as much information as you can about the organization where you want to work and the job for which you are applying.

Follow format

There is a certain way to format a professional letter. I’m not sure this is taught in schools anymore. You can find a template for this in Microsoft Word. Just remember that the spacing matters. Also, choose a traditional, easy-to-read font. I suggest sticking with something basic like Times New Roman or Cambria.

FYI, your cover letter should be written in first person.

Address a person

Do not start a cover letter with “To Whom It May Concern.” Find out who the hiring manager is and address that person specifically.

Start strong

Don’t waste time in the opening of your letter. Tell the reader specifically why he/she should hire you. Base this on your research. How do your specific skills or experiences align with the organization’s needs? What problems are the organization or industry facing that you have experience in solving?

Also use your opening paragraph to mention any professional or personal connections you have within the organization. Be sure to contact them first, so they know you plan to mention them.

Show differentiation

There are three unemployed people for every job available, according to the President’s most recent State of the Union address. It’s common for hundreds of people to apply for a really good post. Why are you most qualified for this position? What makes you the fit for this organization? What unique skills/experiences do you have that others don’t?

Benefit them

Your idea of a cover letter is, justifiably, convincing the employer that you are the best choice for the job. But the employer wants to read about what you can do for them. They already know how getting the job or internships will benefit you. Flip your thinking as much as possible, focusing on what you can do for them, based on your experiences.

Be concise

Your cover letter should not be longer than a page. The value in the letter isn’t the length, it’s the content. Write in short, active sentences and to keep paragraphs short. You don’t want just reading your cover letter to seem daunting.

Stay relevant

Potential employers don’t care about what you did before college, your hobbies (unless they benefit them) or your aspirations in life. They also don’t care much about your GPA or your coursework, unless you’ve taken unique classes that result in skills that benefit them. Focus your letter on how you fit the job and the company, nothing else.

Close the deal

Don’t end your cover letter on a passive note. Instead, you want to end with a call to action that will result in an interview. I would encourage you to tell them why you’re excited about the position and when you will call them for a follow-up (usually a week later). Be sure to provide your information in case they want to contact you sooner.

Display professionalism

Be professional in your tone, word choice and format. Do not attempt to use humor. This is not the place to try to be cute. However, you also don’t want to be overly formal. Choose a conversational, professional tone.


Be sure to spell check and proofread your letter several times. Hiring managers say they weed through the many applicants by looking for spelling and grammar errors on the resumes and cover letters. Pay special attention to the person’s name spelling. If you can’t get his/her name correct, they’ll feel insulted and they won’t trust you to do anything else right. My best advice for you is to print your letter and read it on paper.

Email text

A lot of today’s job searches are conducted online. If you are applying for a job or internship via email or are asked to send a potential employer your materials, include your resume as an attachment, but make your email text your cover letter.

You still should follow all of the rules above. I suggest writing the cover letter in a Word document, going through all of the appropriate revisions, then copying and pasting it in an email.

The only thing you shouldn’t do is use the formal business letter format. You just need a professional greeting and then the text with a formal salutation.

Be sure any attachments you send are titled appropriately and labeled with your name. For example, Kenna Griffin’s resume.

Follow rules

Some organizations have specific information they want you to include or online programs through which they want you to submit materials. If this is the case, follow their directions exactly. Otherwise, just be sure to include your cover letter (0r email), resume and examples of your work.

Writing about yourself isn’t easy for anyone. I hope this post and the linked readings help take some of the unknown out of writing professional cover letters. Good luck with your job and internship searches! Remember that I post of a list of media jobs each Monday and media internships each Friday.

Real Nerds Read!

Consider reading Back to Basics: What Goes Into a Great Cover Letter. It breaks the cover letter down from graph to graph, explaining exactly what to put where.