Once you’ve thrown your black cap in the air, the real fun begins: applying for jobs as a new college grad. Or, perhaps you’ve decided to take your education one step further by getting a graduate degree. Either way, you’re going to need to do some convincing, whether it’s proving your skills to a hiring manager or persuading an admissions director that you’re the right fit for their program. A cover letter will help you make a strong case as a recent graduate.
What is a cover letter?
A cover letter is a professional document new college graduates use when applying to a job or a graduate education program. Though a cover letter is typically accompanied by your resume, they’re two distinct documents.
While a resume serves as a factual, rapid-fire list of your skills and job experience, your cover letter is more personal and anecdotal. It’s a chance to give a hiring manager or admissions director a better feel for your personality as a candidate and win them over with what makes you unique.
Why does it matter?
As a recent college grad, you probably don’t have much of a professional reputation to rely on. Your cover letter can help you make a good first impression, demonstrating that despite being new to the workforce, you know how to present yourself in a professional, confident manner.
A cover letter conveys your passion, which can be an asset that sets new grads apart from their more seasoned counterparts. Use it to share a little more information on why you feel compelled to apply for this specific position or what personal connection you have to the role.
Your cover letter is also a good opportunity to highlight novel skills. Since you’ve spent the last several years in the classroom, you may have worked with more modern technology or been introduced to new techniques than what the company is currently using. This knowledge can benefit you as a candidate.
When you should send a cover letter
When applying for a job
Most job listings explicitly ask for a cover letter. Even if the one you’re applying for doesn’t, it’s a good idea to include your cover letter in the body of your email to a hiring manager. Remember, this is their first interaction with you, so you want to make it count.
When applying for a graduate program
Graduate programs also typically ask for a cover letter from candidates. It will usually be submitted as an attachment in an online application or as part of a packet of physical documents you submit via mail.
What to include:
The reader’s name. Avoid using a generic introduction like ‘dear hiring manager.’ Put forth the extra effort to find out the name of the person who will be reviewing applications and use it in your letter.
The position or program you’re applying for. If you were referred by a current employee or professor, include their name, as well.
Your motivation for applying. Share a sentence or two about your personal reasons for wanting to be part of this company or university program.
Relevant experience and coursework. Cite specific examples from your undergraduate classes and/or previous jobs that have helped prepare you for this position.
Skills or characteristics that make you unique. How are you different from other new grads who may be applying?
What you should omit
- A rehash of your resume. Avoid simply restating what’s already in your resume.
- Experience that’s not relevant to the job. While club memberships and other extracurriculars are part of a holistic college experience, leave them out of your cover letter unless you can tie them directly to the job requirements.
- Funky formatting and other “creative” ideas. While you may be tempted to do something out-of-the-box to get the reader’s attention, you risk giving the impression that you’re not taking the application seriously. Instead, use the content of your letter to win them over.
Sample for recent college grads applying to jobs
Sample for applying to a graduate program
Once you’ve put the finishing touches on your cover letter, don’t forget to take one last step: editing. Have a friend or family member proofread your letter for grammar and spelling to make sure it’s perfect before you send it off.