Wednesday, June 12, 2024

How to Write a Winning Cover Letter as a Fresh Graduate [2024]

Writing a cover letter is easy-peasy with these tips!

A job posting attracts hundreds (or even thousands) of applicants with similar skills and experience as you. To stand out in your post-college graduation job search, you must learn how to write a winning cover letter.

While a detailed resume listing your skills and accomplishments is eye-catching, a cover letter adds context to your list of experiences that can make or break a hiring manager’s decision.

Bag that awesome job for a fresh college graduate with our step-by-step guide to the best cover letter tips. 🚶

What Is a Cover Letter and Why Is It Important? 🤔

A cover letter is a one-page paper of three to four paragraphs (about 250 to 400 words) introducing yourself and explaining why you’re the best fit for the job. 🎉

It’s not a replacement for your resume, which lists your background, skills, and accomplishments related to the job you’re applying for. Instead, it’s a solid addition and a sales pitch that contextualizes your experience and skills. 

A female hiring manager smiling after reading a job application via email since the applicant knows how to write a winning cover letter
Hiring managers appreciate cover letters from college graduates with no previous job experience as long as they can feature the skills they’ve gained from volunteering, club commitments, and other activities. Photo: Andrea Piacquadio/Pexels

You must tailor the cover letter to fit every job you apply to, just like a resume. Cover letters quickly help hiring managers determine whether you’re a match with the company. It’s a great way of setting applicants apart, especially those with similar backgrounds and skill sets. 💯

TIP: Unless the employer specifically instructs you not to include a cover letter, submit one for every job you apply for. It shows that you’re willing to go the extra mile and offers them a glimpse of your research and writing abilities. 😉

How to Write a Winning Cover Letter: 9 Best Steps for College Graduates 💪

1. Do Your Research 🧑‍💻

Writing a cover letter for college graduates is no different from writing an essay in class: you need to gather all the facts before putting pen to paper. 

Start on the right foot by using the correct information about the hiring manager’s name and position title, and include the company’s name and address on the header. 📍

Most job postings have this information. In case it’s unavailable, look for it on the job posting site, company website, or LinkedIn. You could also call the company to confirm the details. 📞

Eager female college student writing down the details of the company she's applying for to include in her cover letter
Planning your outline can lead you to write a detailed and concise cover letter that lets hiring managers know all they need to know in a nutshell. Photo: benzoix/Freepik

Then, you need to find and use essential information about the company and job position you’re applying for to help you form your cover letter. 

How do you do this? First, research the company culture by asking people who have worked there, visiting the company’s website, or checking sites that review companies, like Glassdoor. 

Look out for the company’s vision, mission, and core values. 🔎 You want to see if it’s a good match with the job environment you’re looking for before you begin writing. 

Next, review the duties and responsibilities of the open job position. Keep an eye out for key points, like “must have experience in X” or “must exhibit Y and Z traits,” so you can mention that in your cover letter if it applies to you. 

Then, combine the information you’ve gathered by tying them to a relevant background, skill, or accomplishment you have (which you’ll write about in the body of your cover letter). 

2. Build A Header 📃 

This part on the top left side of the document contains the basic information about your recipient. It should look like this:

[Today’s Date]

[Hiring Manager’s First Name and Last Name]

[Position Title]

[Company Name]

[Company Street Address]

[Company City, Country, and Zip Code]

TIP: You should add your personal details (full name, mobile number, professional email address, and relevant social media profiles) in the document heading (topmost portion) as a banner.

3. Use the Right Greetings 🫡

How you greet your reader is equally important as the rest of the information you write down in your cover letter. 

It’s best to personalize your letter by mentioning your recipient’s name instead of using “To Whom It May Concern” or “Dear Sir or Madam,” which are way too formal and imply you didn’t do your research. 😬 

Female job applicant introducing herself to a potential employer
Keep a warm tone of greeting in your cover letter as if you were meeting the hiring manager in person. Photo: benzoix/Freepik

Start with “Dear Mr./Ms./Mx. [Hiring Manager’s Surname]”, but if you’re unsure about their pronouns, you can do any of these instead: 

  • Dear [First Name]
  • Dear [First and Last Name]
  • Dear Hiring Manager (as a last resort if you absolutely cannot find information)

TIP: Check out the hiring manager’s profile on LinkedIn or other social media platforms to see their preferred pronouns. When in doubt, you should opt not to use any pronoun at all.

4. Nail the Introduction 🔨

Start with an exciting hook that gives the hiring manager important information about you that connects with what they’re looking for.

And don’t stress if this will be your first job! A cover letter is the perfect place for college graduates who don’t have any prior job experience to catch a hiring manager’s attention. 

African-American college student in white sweater reading a book outside with trees in background
Highlight your best qualities that are relevant to the job position in the introduction of your cover letter. Photo: Tamarcus Brown/Unsplash

Here are some opening themes you can use to build your introduction and grab attention and examples you could use as inspiration:

Point to an accomplishment you made because of your skills. 

“My name is Jessica James, and I graduated with a BA degree in History while serving as a Student Council External Vice-President. During my stint as a student leader, I secured 15 company sponsorships for our biggest school event.”

Show your love for the company’s products, services, or values.

“I’m Steve Peralta, a recent graduate with a BS Marketing degree under my belt and an avid user of your product for 10 years. I share your values on inclusive beauty, which is why I’m excited to submit my application for a brand I truly believe in.”

Name-drop someone relevant to the company. 

“As a communications student who worked as a part-time radio DJ for Station XYZ, I had the pleasure of interviewing your brand manager, Alexis Pritchett, who encouraged me to apply to your company as soon as I graduated.”

Or, you can simply lay down the facts with no frills and fuss. 

“I am John Andrew Allen, formally submitting my application as an Assistant Supervisor. I’m an Honors Graduate with a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Management and an active member of extracurriculars, like the Honors’ Society, Debate Club, and Outdoor Hikers Organization.”

5. Sell Yourself as the Solution 💬

After you’ve hooked the hiring manager’s attention to your opening lines, show them that you’re the ideal candidate to solve their problems in the body of the cover letter. 

TIP: Keep an eye out for keywords mentioned in the job posting and use them in your cover letter. This will come in handy for hiring managers using scanning software, like an Applicant Tracking System (ATS), to filter applicants with the relevant skills and background they’re looking for. You can use an online tool like ResumeWorded to help you out, but be careful not to go overboard.

Male college student applicant showing how he's the best fit for a job
To get your dream job, ask yourself, “What traits or skills do I have that can help this company?” to help you fill out your cover letter. Photo: Lifestylememory/Freepik

It helps if you can give concrete results to show that you know what you’re talking about. ✅ Here are a few examples building on the introduction sentences included above: 

Point to an accomplishment you made because of your skills.

“Within a three-month time frame, I was able to win potential investors to my ideas with excellent research and communication skills, and we were able to raise $1,000 more than our target quota. We even convinced five companies to open internship opportunities for students.”

Show your love for the company’s products, services, or values.

“My genuine love for your product showed when I successfully converted my friends and 2,378 people to try it out – data I got as your product affiliate two years ago. My Instagram profile currently has 25,000 followers, growing at a steady rate of around 4 percent each year, so it is safe to say I know a thing or two about building an engaged online community. As such, I believe I am the perfect fit for the online community manager you’re looking for.”

Name-drop someone relevant to the company. 

“With a 33 percent increase in audience and engagement during my stint as a DJ along with the specialized skills in my resume, I’m confident in helping you increase similar metrics for your company as a Communications Assistant.” 

Lay down the facts with no frills and fuss.

“With a 3.8 GPA, earning major awards in debate tournaments, and successfully reaching the peak of 10 high-altitude mountains, striving for excellence is at the heart of everything I do, which is something that I believe to be an ideal match for your company.” 

6. Close Strongly 💪

What’s a good way to end a winning cover letter? Guide your reader with a clear call to action (CTA). ✅

This is your proactive suggestion to put your application closer to the next step in the recruitment process, which is to have the hiring manager call you in for an interview. 

In your closing paragraph, mention that you’ve attached your resume or portfolio for a detailed background of your experience. This also serves as a guide on what your application consists of. 📂

Add your contact details, like your mobile number and email address, so the hiring manager can easily contact you, especially if your application wowed them. 📧 Lastly, thank them for the time and show your interest in having an interview with them soon. 🤝

Female applicant waving goodbye with a smile to an online job interview
Complete your cover letter with a powerful call to action. Photo: Ekaterina Bolovtsova/Pexels

These are strong examples of a CTA:

  • “Please find attached my resume and portfolio for your reference.”
  • “You may reach me via mobile [insert number] or via email [insert email address] for any concerns.”
  • “Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.” or “Thank you for your time, and I am excited to become a valuable member of your team.”

Then, end your letter with any of these closing phrases: “Sincerely,” “Respectfully,” “Best regards,” “Kind regards,” or “Thank you.”

Don’t forget to print your full name and sign your cover letter (especially if it’s a hard copy). 

TIP: Signing a cover letter sent electronically isn’t required, but it shows your sense of professionalism, attention to detail, and genuine interest in the job.  

7. Format Your Letter Professionally 📜

You’re probably wondering how to write a cover letter that’s easy on the eyes despite cramming it with tons of information. But you don’t need to sweat it — simplicity is key! 🔑

Female job applicant editing cover letter formatting while seated on the floor
With the right formatting, you can make your cover letter look professional. Photo: Vlada Karpovich/Pexels

Make every word count because a cover letter should not exceed one letter-sized bond paper (8.5 x 11 inches) or an A4-sized piece of paper (8.27 x 11.69 inches).

Choose popular font styles with no frills and fuss, like Arial, Georgia, Helvetica, or Times New Roman, to make your cover letter readable by the hiring manager and the ATS. Use the same font for your cover letter and resume for uniformity, and if you prefer using unique font styles, it’s best to reserve them for your portfolio. 😄

TIP: You can choose to use the same font style used by the hiring company with the help of online font style identification tools.

White space is hugely important to give your reader’s eyes a break in front of a lot of information. To achieve this, format your cover letter as follows:

  • Font size: 11 to 12 points
  • Line spacing: Single to 1.15
  • Paragraph spacing: Double
  • Margins: 0.5” to 1”
  • Alignment: Left-justified 

TIP: Save your work into a PDF file to keep your formatting intact and for it to be easily read across different devices and tools, especially the ATS. 

8. Proofread Everything 🧐

There’s nothing worse than declaring that you have “grate attention to detale” without checking your spelling or accurate information in the cover letter you’ve submitted. 🤦

Use grammar-checking apps like Grammarly, ask a friend for feedback, and read your cover letter out loud to make sure it sounds natural. 

An Indian male college student focused on proofreading his job cover letter
Make a good first impression on your cover letter by proofreading it multiple times for errors or inconsistencies before submission. Photo: katemangostar/Freepik

TIP: Some job posts ask you to use specific words in the cover letter or email subject (e.g. “pineapple”) to show your sharp attention to detail and diligence in reading the application instructions. Don’t forget to include these where required! 

Lastly, make sure that all the information matches your resume. 👍 For example, if you’ve recently switched to a new phone number, ensure the updated version is listed on your resume and cover letter. 

Or, if you’re writing multiple custom resumes and cover letters, check that all the details suit each other before you submit them as one in a job application. You don’t want to accidentally submit a cover letter for a marketing job with a resume fit for a nurse. 😅

9. Submit Your Cover Letter Correctly ✅

If you’re submitting your job application digitally, you should make sure your cover letter can be easily retrieved by the hiring manager and any scanning system they use. 

Female applicant reviewing her cover letter before submitting it via email
Always proofread your cover letter from the content to the file name before pressing ‘send.’ Photo: Jenny Ueberberg/Unsplash

Here are the ways you can do that:

  • Unless the hiring company instructed otherwise, use this template for an email subject: “Job Application for [Position] – [Last Name], [First Name].” It contains the right keywords beside your name.
  • Write a brief email message. For example: “Good day [Hiring Manager’s Name], I am [first name] [last name], applying for [job position]. My cover letter, resume, and portfolio are attached to this email for your reference. Thank you.”
  • Check that you have successfully attached your files in the email, as you don’t want to craft a good message only to miss important files. 😅 

TIP: If you’re sending applications online, make sure your file name includes your name so it can be easily searched and viewed without the need to open the file. You can use the “LastName, FirstName-Job Position-Cover Letter.pdf” format unless the employer gives specific instructions.

2024 Cover Letter Checklist: Guide for College Graduates ✔️

Header: “Am I addressing my cover letter to the right people?

✅ Company’s complete name and address

✅ Hiring Manager’s complete name and position title

✅ Date of application

Introduction: “Did I give them an overview of who I am and why I’m the best fit for the job?” 

✅ Your full name

✅ Position you’re applying for and how you found the job opening

✅ A one-liner of your greatest achievement or skill to grab attention and segue to the following paragraph

Sales Pitch: “Did I show a relevant situation showing my best traits that fits the job description?

Two to three relevant situations with a specific, measurable achievement

✅ Traits, background, or skills developed 

✅ Connection to the job being applied for

Conclusion: “Did I guide them to see more of my work and how to get in touch with me?

✅ Mention attached resume and portfolio

✅ Contact details

✅ Formal closure

If you’ve been busy working part-time jobs to make extra cash or working for a stellar evaluation on your projects and internships, you’ve got a wealth of skills and experience under your belt. 

So, it’s easy to land your dream job as long as you clearly communicate what you’re capable of to potential employers in an articulate and relevant cover letter with the tips above. You got this! 💪

READ MORE: 9 Ways College Students Can Make Their Resumes Stand Out

How to Write a Winning Cover Letter: Frequently Asked Questions 💭

What is a cover letter and why is it important? 

A cover letter is a short, one-page supplement to your resume that connects your listed background to the job position you’re applying for. You can think of it as a sales pitch that gives context to your skills and experience.

What is the difference between a resume and a cover letter?

How long should a cover letter be?

What should my cover letter include? 

How can I make my cover letter stand out?

To whom do I address my cover letter and how should I do it?

How do I format my cover letter? 

How do I end my cover letter? 

What is the best thing to remember when writing a good cover letter?

How can I write a cover letter with no previous job experience? 

What should I include in my research before writing a cover letter?

What are the mistakes to avoid when writing a cover letter? 

Are cover letters necessary for job applications?

Should you sign a cover letter?

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