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How to Write a Cover Letter: 10 Tips for College Students

Wondering how to write a cover letter that stands out? Follow our tips for college students to get your application noticed.

Before we share our tips on how to write a cover letter, let’s cover why you should write a cover letter in the first place. 

A well-written cover letter is a key component in the search process of how to get an internship or job. While sometimes optional, a cover letter is your chance to capture the attention of the hiring manager and to tell your story with added color and information. Think of your resume as a detailed overview of your work history, education, skills, and other relevant work experience. Your cover letter is your “storytelling” opportunity to say why you are a great fit for the role.

Our ten tips for writing cover letters will help you craft your best “why me” pitch and get your application noticed. 

1. Research the job before you write anything 

Before you write a word, your job search should start with learning as much as you can about the company and the position. Does a parent company own it? What do you know about the specific internship role? What are the daily responsibilities, and how can you demonstrate experience that meets the required qualifications? It’s essential to know as much as you can before you write your cover letter; this will make the interview process more manageable, too. 

2. Correctly format your cover letter

The standard cover letter format is much like a professional letter. Most computer word processing programs—from Microsoft Word to Google Docs—have templates to make this easy. An incorrectly formatted cover letter in a pile of hundreds of cover letters may compel a recruiter to pass over your application. 

3. Look for a name to reference 

A cover letter personally addressing the hiring manager shows your interest. Search on LinkedIn or even call the company to get the right name for the right manager. Hiring managers often cite this as an indicator of the effort an applicant is willing to put into the role, if hired. 

4. Start strong 

Your first paragraph is the most important paragraph of your cover letter. Recruiters will often read an introduction and determine a job candidate’s eligibility, so it’s essential to include your most pertinent information up front. Start with your name, the role you are applying for, and why you want the job. Follow up with your most relevant experience, why you are the best person for the job, and be sure to include any reference’s names, too.  

5. Use the terms in the job listing to build your cover letter

Analyze the job listing carefully. Many job search portals use keyword algorithms to rate and rank your application. Not only are you building your “perfect candidate” pitch, you are matching their desired traits with your experience. Review the listing for specific words and use them in your cover letter. If your prospective employer asks for “strong research skills,” make sure you emphasize your “strong research skills” in your cover letter. 

6. Stay relevant 

Please do not try to encapsulate your life story in a one-page cover letter. Keep your pitch relevant to the job listing. You may have to pick experience or achievements to showcase if your cover letter is too long. 

7. Keep it brief 

Be sure to express your achievements and qualifications as succinctly as you can. Use bullet points, stay within one page, and limit the length of your sentences and paragraphs. The ideal cover letter is 4-5 short paragraphs: your introduction, two or three paragraphs on your experience, and a closing line. Recruiters have piles of applications and resumes to get through and succinct, clear cover letters fare best.  

8. Use action verbs and numbers 

Action verbs communicate responsibility in a cover letter. Stay away from passive sentences—they are less direct and less lively. You want to show "I did this," "I helped change xyz," "That project might not have succeeded without me." Don’t be afraid to boast a little bit, and include specific ways—backed with data, numbers, and figures—that you made a difference. Recruiters want to see how you make an impact.

9. Close correctly

Make sure to thank the recruiter for their time and reconfirm your interest in the closing line. Let the recruiter know that you will be reaching back out to follow up. Overall, you want to politely convey that you are very interested in this job and that you will go the extra mile to get it. 

10. Proofread your cover letter

After you finish writing your cover letter, step away from it for a little while. When you come back, re-read your cover letter with fresh eyes and look for any errors. Ask a friend or family member to proof it for you. For international students, if English isn’t your first language, ask your Career Accelerator advisor or your university’s career services center to review it for you. 

Putting together a great letter takes practice. Follow our cover letter tips and you will have a better chance of standing out in a crowd of applicants. 

Learn more about Shorelight's Career Accelerator Program, an exclusive service for our international students that helps you get an internship, job search, and more.