We’ve Got You Covered

by Stephanie Whetstone

Congratulations! You’ve made it to graduation! Once you’ve put your cap and gown away, framed your diploma, and packed your boxes, people will begin to ask you the dreaded question: “What’s next?” Maybe you already have a job lined up, and you’ll happily tell them about your future plans. If you don’t, that’s okay. Tell them you’re keeping your options open and taking a much needed break; then begin to work on your cover letters. If you’re not sure how to begin to write a cover letter, Princeton Writes can help. Here are a few tips to get you started:

The Opening Paragraph

First, begin with a salutation and use the name of the person in charge of hiring. You don’t know the name? You still can’t find it after scouring the job posting and the employer’s website? That’s okay. Begin with “Dear Hiring Committee.” Do not begin with “To whom it may concern.” In the Internet age, you should not be completely clueless about who might be concerned with hiring you.

Next, state that you are writing to apply for the job and specifically name it. Customizing each letter may take a little time, but if you send a “one size fits all” letter for all the jobs you are interested in, you will get a one size fits all rejection in return. If someone with a name that the hiring committee might recognize told you about the position, mention it here.

In a sentence or two, summarize your qualifications and interest in the job. Mention what you admire about the department or organization, specifically. Convey your belief that you could contribute in ways that will make their work even better.

The Middle Paragraph(s)

This is your place to shine. Go into detail about the work you have done. Rather than saying that you are a “team player” or something abstract like that, show this through a brief anecdote about the work that you have already done or a project you collaborated on. Use concrete evidence of your expertise. Instead of saying that you take initiative, describe a situation where you did. You need not reveal every detail of your working history here — that’s for your resume or c.v. Just offer a few highlights that explain what you do best and show that you have the qualities the hiring committee is looking for in an employee.

The Final Paragraph

This is where you invite future connection. Don’t waste valuable space by saying that you can be reached at a certain email address or phone number. That information should be on a header that you use for all your documents. Your name should figure prominently (in a slightly larger font) on this header. Your email should come next. That will be how most employers contact you these days. Instead, use this part of your letter to restate your interest in the job and explain how you will add to the great work your prospective employer is doing (a sincere compliment is never amiss). This shows that you know what they do and that you have done your research. Instead of just saying you “look forward to discussing this position at their convenience,” say that you look forward to discussing how you might add to their department or organization and fit into their community, and be specific about what you will add. End with a proper closing (“Sincerely” will do, and sign or type your name.)

In every paragraph of the cover letter, you should balance sharing the specifics of your expertise with revealing your knowledge of the place you are applying to and the work they do. Depending on your field and the extent of your experience, your letter should be 1-2 pages. Still baffled? Make an appointment at Princeton Writes, and we will walk you through it. You’ve already done the hard work to succeed at Princeton. Now you’re ready to map out your future. Don’t worry, you’ve got this!