Monday, March 23, 2009

The Importance of Cover Letters in a Down Economy

This week we continue with tips and advice for students and alumni who on the job or internship hunt during this difficult economy. One of the most challenging things about a job search is that feeling that your resume is going into a black hole somewhere - and unfortunately, you may not hear back at all from some of the organizations that you've applied to. One way to combat the gravitational force of these resume black holes is to send your resume along with a cover letter. This may seem like commonsense, but for students and recent alumni who are just getting started on the job hunt, it may not be immediately clear why a cover letter is so important. And when you're applying for five, ten, fifteen, maybe even more, positions per week, the temptation to do away with cover letters all together can be tempting. Here are some reasons not to give in to that little voice that is telling you not to write that cover letter:

An article earlier this year in the New York Times focused on the importance of cover letters. As that article points out: "'Cover letters are a graceful way to introduce yourself, to convey your personality and to impress a hiring manager with your experience and your writing skills,' said Katy Piotrowski, an author of career books and a career counselor based in Fort Collins, Colo. 'You can also tailor them to a specific company in ways that you cannot with a resume.'" It's almost impossible to fit all of your relevant skills onto your resume, and contextualize those skills for the position you are applying for - the cover letter gives you the opportunity to provide a potential employer with that context.

Other tips from the NYT include:

- Your cover letter should be short — generally no longer than three or four paragraphs.
- In your first paragraph, explain why you are writing — it may be that you are answering an ad, that you were referred to the company through networking, or that you learned that the company is expanding...
- In the middle paragraphs, explain why you are a good candidate, and show that you are knowledgeable about the company. Then convey a clear story about your career, and highlight specific past achievements...
- A cover letter with typos, misspellings and poor sentence structure may take you out of the running for a job. If you cannot afford to pay someone to review your cover letter and resume, enlist a friend or a family member with good language skills to do it instead.

For more information about writing cover letters, check out the CAPS "How to Write a Compelling Cover Letter" webcast or the newly revised and redesigned CAPS Handout on cover letter writing. Still not sure what to write? Call CAPS at (773) 702 - 7040 and schedule an appointment to go over your cover letter with a CAPS career counselor.

Questions, suggestions or other thoughts? Post them here.

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