What to Say in Your Cover Letter

For someone new to the job market, it can be difficult to determine what to include on both the résumé and cover letter. You may feel that you have no experience to include, and your work experience could be non-existent or very limited.

I Put All My Best Information in the Résumé. What Do I Say in the Cover Letter?

When composing your cover letter, keep its purpose in mind: The cover letter is written to a specific position, aims to persuade the reader to read the resume, and asks for an interview. Your cover letters will be different each time you send one out. Maintaining the right focus will help you determine what to include in the letter. The type of letter will also help you focus: Are you writing to a recruiter or to a blind job posting? What you know of your audience will also help you focus your letter. Finally, your company research will guide you toward a direction appropriate for that particular opening or desired opening.

Just as you did when writing your résumé, review everything you learned about yourself through your assessments. What are your core values? What is your personality profile? What are your best skills? Why are you drawn to this profession? Put all this information in front of you, and review which aspects from your assessments are best suited to this particular position at this particular company. Also consider which characteristics the reader will likely be looking for. If you are responding to a job post, the post itself can often give some clues. Avoid repeating the desired information word-for-word, but do speak to those requests in the cover letter.

After drafting the letter, if you feel you are repeating the same information that is on the resume, use the same information in the body of your letter, but word it or present it differently. Look for information that you can summarize in one sentence instead of the two or three bulleted points you have on your résumé. Did you work summer jobs in sales? How much did you contribute to the bottom line overall? Were you repeatedly in leadership roles on school projects? Instead of listing each project, combine your experience in one pack-it-with-a-punch sentence. And if all else fails, focus hard on presenting your best accomplishments in a new way, but be wary of overusing your thesaurus.

Also consider how the same information can be presented in a different format. Quantifiable information that is listed as dollar figures on the resume can possible shown as a percentage in the cover letter, particularly if it is a figure that shows growth or some type of (positive) change.

For those who are new to the working world, focus on the educational background, volunteer activities, summer or part-time jobs, and any clubs or memberships that may be applicable. Review your background in all of these areas to see which should be stressed in the letter you are composing. Again, include the information that best meets the needs of the employer, and use that as a guide.