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by Andrew Fennell | March 06, 2020

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Applying for a job when you have no, or limited, experience is daunting. Here we look at a crucial part of your application—the cover letter. It’s an excellent tool for showing your suitability for the role and the organization, even when you don’t have that all-important experience.

What is a cover letter?

First, let’s explain the purpose of a cover letter. It is not the same as your resume.

Your resumé is, effectively, a detailed run down of your education, qualifications, skills, and experience. You can edit it to be job specific if you wish, but its basic framework stays the same and will contain very similar information from application to application.

Your cover letter is how you apply for this particular position at this particular organization. It’s a one-page outline of why you are the best candidate in this instance. It sits alongside your resumé. As its name suggests, it is written prose and generally less of a list, unlike your resumé.

Tips for your cover letter when you don’t have experience:

So, how do you write a cover letter when you know you don’t have tons of experience to showcase? Follow these tips:

Experience isn’t everything.

Read anything about job applications and you’ll be told the opposite. However, in many instances, experience isn’t always the most important requirement for a job. Particularly if you are applying for internships or other graduate roles, the employer generally expects that your experience is limited. Instead, they will be looking at your personal attributes.

Highlight personal attributes that match organizational goals.

Your cover letter gives you the opportunity to highlight those personal attributes that will be welcomed in this workplace. Look at the job description and consider what personal attributes the employer is looking for. For example, you may be able to demonstrate leadership skills from your stint as captain of a sport or debate team, or you could showcase project-management skills with a project you did in class.

Make clear your willingness to learn.

Many employers would prefer a candidate that shows potential and capacity to learn over someone rooted in their ways, particularly for entry-level positions. This flexibility of thinking means that you can be shaped to the needs of the business. It’s an enticing trait, so explain how you are a motivated and willing learner.

Show how your goals line up with those of the organization.

A big part of succeeding in a company is having a personality and outlook that fits the organizational culture. Your vision needs to match the vision of the company. Employers look for this on all cover letters, not just from those with limited experience. Do some research about the company, and explain how you are the right fit for their culture and will help them to achieve their objectives.

Think about transferrable skills.

Not having experience doesn’t mean that you don’t have any hirable skills. Draw on your personal attributes, as demonstrated in other settings, when writing your cover letter. You may not yet have experience within this job type or industry. However, you do have experience. You’ll need to think carefully about the experience you’ve got and how it could be relevant. For example, did you do a specific project in class that’s relevant to this industry? Did your summer job teach you a thing or two about customer service?

Let your personality shine through.

Cover letters need to be unique. There’s a good chance that the employer will have to read multiple applications, so standing out is imperative. Take time to word your cover letter in a way which reflects you. This will make it standout and be memorable.

Get checking.

Always take time to carefully check your cover letter’s spelling and grammar. This is particularly true for those with limited experience. Recruiters will simply throw out your error-riddled application in favor of someone who has demonstrated attention to detail.

Be confident when you are writing a cover letter, even if you have no experience. Believe that you still have a great deal to put in the letter, as you do – you just need to be a little more thoughtful and creative about how to do it.

Andrew Fennell is the founder of CV writing advice website StandOut CV—he is a former recruitment consultant and contributes careers advice to websites like Business Insider, The Guardian and FastCompany.

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