This is one of the most common questions I get, especially around this time of year. While some companies have replaced cover letters with the intro email, others still require one as part of your application. There's no perfect formula for a cover letter—if there was, everyone's would look similar and no one would stand out—but here are four tips to help make writing your cover letters a little bit easier.
1) Your cover letter is the teaser trailer.
Building up to a big movie's release date, there will often be a teaser trailer. It's an abbreviated peek, meant to intrigue the viewer and get them excited about the full trailer, and ultimately decide to see the movie. Think of your cover letter as the teaser trailer, your resume as the full trailer, and your interview as the movie itself. If the teaser trailer shows the exact same scenes that the full trailer does, you'll probably lose interest, because you're not getting any new information. Likewise, your cover letter should not be your resume in paragraph form—it should be a short teaser of you as an employee. Recruiters are extremely busy, so make your teaser as skimmable as possible!
Side note—starting your cover letter with, "I am a student at [X] University..." makes it sound like being a student is the main characteristic you're bringing to the job, and also makes it very hard for your cover letter to stand out. They'll see that you're a student in your resume, so find another way to start your letter.
2) Be specific about why you're applying.
Employers are looking for candidates who are genuinely excited about the work, team, and values of the company. This doesn't mean showering them with flattery, but be explicit about what's drawing you to the company in your cover letter, outside of the opportunity. Everyone is excited by the opportunity to work there—why is the company attracting you, specifically? Hopefully you've already done all your research, and have reflected on why this company and role is right for you. The more the reader of your cover letter thinks, s/he gets us and what we're about, the better.
3) Show, don't tell.
Avoid clichés that anyone can write in a cover letter—things like being "hard working," "motivated," or a "team player." If these are qualities you bring to the table, demonstrate them using a quick anecdote or proof point in your cover letter. Name-dropping past clients you've worked on or any recognition you've gained (without going into details—again, save that for your resume) is also a great way to show that you have relevant experience and pique their interest.
4) Let your personality come through.
This is one of those infuriating pieces of advice that sounds easy, but is actually the most difficult part of writing a cover letter. Often, our cover letters sound overly formal and not like us, because we feel like exhibiting professionalism equals being buttoned up. On the flip side, letters that try too hard to be funny or shocking can also miss the mark. Your best approach is to understand the culture of the company to which you're applying to gauge the level of formalness/casualness you can use, and then do your best to reflect you in your tone and letter content (or form!).
You got this,