You Never Get a Second Chance to Make a First Impression!

Use your cover letter to expand on your experience with additional context. Even if the cover letter is optional, it is a great opportunity to reinforce your qualifications and give employers another strong data point to consider.

Cover Letter Basics

As employers read the cover letter, they're looking for two key insights from you:

Identify the Problem(s)

Does this candidate understand the problems that our business is facing right now? Hiring managers are looking for people who can relate to the challenges of the employer/industry so they can bring all those experiences you talked about in your resume to help solve those problems. When you're writing your own cover letter, start with the list of responsibilities and ask yourself: Why? Why is this task important to this company? Keep digging until you can't go any further. The true need is usually the one at the end of a chain of "whys."

Show How You Can Help Be a Solution to Those Problem(s)

Students writing cover letters for internships and new grads often make the mistake of over-focusing on their educational backgrounds. At the end of the day, what hiring managers care about most is your classroom, volunteer, research, summer, and past work experience and what you can walk through the door and deliver on day one. Not sure what skills and experiences you should be featuring? Typically the most important requirements for the position will be listed first in the job description, or mentioned more than once. You'll want to make sure you describe how you can deliver on those key priorities.

Another Trick: Drop the text of the job description and maybe a few similar ones into a word cloud tool like WordClouds, and see what stands out—maybe repeated. That's what the hiring manager is looking for most.

Other Helpful Cover Letter Tips

Keep It Short and Sweet

There are always exceptions to the rule, but in general, for resumes and cover letters alike, don't go over a page.

Throw in a Few Numbers

Hiring managers love to see stats—they show you've had a measurable impact. Results matter like saving money, time, making people's work lives more productive. Try to quantify numbers, percentages, and dollars.

Finish Strong

It's tempting to treat the final lines of your cover letter as a throwaway: "I look forward to hearing from you." But your closing paragraph is your last chance to emphasize your enthusiasm for the company or how you'd be a great fit for the position. For example, you could say: "I'm passionate about [Company]'s mission and would love to bring my [add your awesome skills here] to this position."

You can also use the end of your letter to add important details—like, say, the fact that you're willing to relocate for the job. For more ideas and a cover letter example, check out pages 14–15 in the Triton Career Guide.