By Woody Hancock: C2C Managing Director- New York Operations

We are often asked about cover letters.  Some clients wonder if, in the age of the internet, they’re obsolete, while others, especially the new college graduates we work with at Campus2Career, haven’t a clue about what a cover letter is for, nor how to write one.

Cover letters are not obsolete and they have a definite purpose, which is to serve as a personal introduction to a prospective employer outlining your interest in a particular position and organization and explaining why you are qualified for that position.  As we tell our clients, a cover letter is not a résumé.  Instead it’s a sort of preview, intended to make the hiring manager want to read your résumé.

Hiring managers get lots of résumés and cover letters, particularly for highly competitive positions, and they don’t necessarily read them all.  For example, many managers will stop reading if the cover letter is poorly written or doesn’t convey much understanding of the position in question.  Likewise, if the cover letter is too long, they will often simply toss it out unread.  Obviously, an unread cover letter means an unread résumé.

A well-written cover letter won’t get you a job by itself, but it will help maximize your chances of being considered.  To start, you must keep in mind that each cover letter must be written individually to address a particular job or organization.  Also, remember that except under rare circumstances, the letter should never be longer than about three quarters of a page.

Generally, a cover letter has three parts, often separated into paragraphs.  The first introduces you, states the position you’re applying for and how you came to hear of it.  The second, the really important part, sets forth why you meet the requirements for this position and presents the reasons why you are a compelling candidate, adding in some knowledge about the organization or industry.  Finally, the third paragraph closes the letter, expressing your interest in an interview, mentioning that your résumé is attached and thanking the manager for his or her time.

New graduates should keep a few things in mind.  First, make sure your letter shows that you’ve thought about why you’re the right person for this position.  Second, write with confidence, using the active voice wherever possible.  Be truthful, but don’t be modest.  You want to convey not just that you can do the job, but that you’ll be really good at it. Third, make sure you demonstrate that you have carefully researched the organization and its industry.  Avoid empty compliments and business jargon.

Remember not to restate your résumé.  A cover letter is a carefully focused introduction.  Also, don’t talk about some great college experience, no matter how important, unless it’s directly relevant to your qualifications for the job.  You can do that in an interview.  Above all, be sure your reasoning makes good logical sense and is laid out clearly.  If it does, chances are you’ll get the interview.