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Writing a compelling cover letter

Cover letters are typically considered less important documents than resumes and therefore, receive less attention. However, a well-written letter can help create a compelling reason for a hiring manager to respond to you and may tip the scale in your favor if your competition chooses not to use one.

The purpose of a resume is to communicate your accomplishments, experiences, education, and skills. The purpose of a cover letter is to explain to a hiring manager how your accomplishments, experiences, education, and skills add value to the specific needs of the organization or business. Simply put, a cover letter gives a compelling reason for the hiring manager to interview you.

A cover letter for an internship should answer four questions.

  1. Why am I a good fit for your organization?
  2. How are my qualifications well-matched for an internship within the organization?
  3. Why now?
  4. What should be the next step in pursuing an interview?

The answers you provide to these questions help the hiring manager understand how your resume fits the specific requirements of the internship. A cover letter allows you to draw similarities between your past and the employer’s present needs. This helps the company understand how your skills, abilities and education can benefit the organization. A cover letter offers directions that point out how your strengths can be incorporated into the organization.

Cover letter content

A cover letter should be written with a focus on the employer’s interests, NOT yours.

Think about the way you sort through mail at home. It is likely that the first thing you do is separate the priority mail and junk mail. If the envelope is addressed to “Current Resident,” it is likely to end up in the trash. This is because you know that the information inside is general sales communication and not specific to you.

On the other hand, if you receive an overnight package from FedEx, you are likely to open it right away. The information is perceived as so important and time sensitive that the sender was willing to rush the delivery. The same holds true if the letter is sent in either a large envelope or in a fine linen envelope and addressed specifically to you.

The key point here is that if you perceive information to be important, you are more likely to pay attention.

Now imagine you receive a high quality linen envelope in the mail and your name and address are correct but there is no return address. You are likely to open it out of curiosity. If the first sentence says, “Our organization wants to sell you our latest product,” you would likely throw it away because they are trying to sell you something.

However, if you have an interest in technology and the first sentence says, “Recognizing that you appreciate the latest in technology advancements, we are excited to introduce an innovative new product,” your attention will be peaked, and you will read the next sentence.

In both scenarios, the company is trying to sell you something, but in the second approach, it makes the effort to create a compelling reason for you to want to know more about the product by making it more relevant to you.

People prefer to buy, not be sold. In order to buy something, you must need or want it. If no need exists, you are not buying, you are being sold something. When you buy something, you are fulfilling a need or creating a solution. It follows then, that in order for hiring managers to read your cover letter, you must identify their needs and utilize your letter to address the solutions you can offer to the organization.