How to Write a Cover Letter
Cover letters can trip up even seasoned job seekers. The key is to think of the cover letter like a handshake: your objective is to introduce yourself and start to convince the reader that you are a good fit for this particular job. You wouldn’t just hand your resume to a stranger with no explanation of why you want them to look at it, would you? The cover letter serves as your introduction to the hiring manager. It shouldn’t repeat the resume, but it should give a brief overview of who you are, why you’re writing to the hiring manager (to apply for a specific position), and what you hope will happen as a result of your letter (an interview or a further conversation about what you could offer).
Use our handout on How to Write a Cover Letter that Scores You an Interview for the details on writing a strong cover letter. If you’re still having trouble getting your thoughts down on paper, feel free to schedule an appointment with a Career Coach to discuss what you have so far and what else you could include.
How to Craft a Resume
The thought of trying to express your relevant skills, experiences, and education in one page can be daunting. Use our handout on How to Craft a Resume to get started, and don’t forget these key points:
- Make your name big and bold at the top of the page. You want it to stand out in a stack of resumes!
- Experiment with the format of your resume so it looks clean, easy to read, and professional. Keeping some white space on the page can keep it from looking cluttered and overwhelming.
- Remember that educational experiences are, well, experience! Include any off-campus study, research projects, or presentations if they’re relevant to the job for which you’re applying.
- Don’t forget about volunteer work, student organization participation, and internships.
- Begin each bullet point with a strong action verb. A few of our favorites: conducted; accomplished; evaluated; examined; maintained; maximized; promoted; published; transformed.
- If the job asks for a resume, keep it to one page. The general rule of thumb is to have one page on your resume for every ten years of experience–and in the case of resumes, the shorter, the better. Opportunities that ask for a CV (curriculum vitae) can take longer documents.
- Include only the most relevant information. Don’t make the reader sort through everything you’ve ever done in order to find the bits that make you a great candidate for this particular job.
- Use the “Skills” section for very specific, learned skills, like “HTML/CSS,” “Intermediate French language skills” or “Proficient in Photoshop.” Don’t include soft skills like “customer service,” “time management,” or “organization.” Soft skills should instead be put into context and demonstrated through the bullet points under your experiences.
Interviews, whether in-person or via phone or video call, are an integral part of the job search process. If you are looking for more information about preparing for an interview or would like to practice your skills in a mock interview:
- Use the Big Interview tool to practice answering common and industry-specific interview questions, as many times as you need to do so
- schedule an appointment with a Career Coach.
Do you have a Skype or phone interview coming up? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can help you reserve a quiet space to conduct your interview.
Preparing for the Interview
Do your research. Look over the organization’s website, read their mission and values statements, and think about ways your own goals and values connect to the job or the company. While looking over their website, jot down two or three questions you have about the organization, the position you’re interviewing for, or the team you’ll be working with.
Print off the job description and extra copies of your resume and cover letter to bring along with you in a nice padfolio.
Plan ahead for what you’ll wear. Dress a little more formally than what people usually wear in that job. (You usually can’t go wrong with a suit!)
Practice interviewing with a friend or career coach. Be aware of your communication style and body language so you appear open, engaged, and confident. Sit up straight, smile, and practice giving a firm handshake. If you find yourself frequently using filler words as you speak (“um,” “like,” or “you know”), try to slow down your speech and pause to think about your answer instead of always filling the silence.
Reflect on previous experiences you’ve had that may have helped prepare you for this job.
Common Interview Questions and How to Answer Them
- What is your greatest strength/weakness?
- How do you manage multiple projects or demands?
- Describe a difficult work situation or project and how you overcame it.
- How do you evaluate success?
- Describe a time when you had to take initiative.
- Why are you interested in this position and/or organization?
- What are your short and long term goals?
Always be honest in your interview. Don’t inflate your previous experiences, but don’t discount them, either.
Give examples whenever you can.
Think about how you might answer some of these questions ahead of time. It’s good to have some stories ready to go. For example, if asked about your problem-solving ability, you might know ahead of time that you want to talk about the time you were studying abroad, didn’t speak the language well, and got lost–yet still managed to find your way back to your apartment.
Use the STAR method to answer behavioral interview questions or questions that ask you about how you behaved in previous experiences. When formulating your answer, describe:
- The Situation: Set the scene. When and where did this experience happen?
- The Task: What was the problem you were facing?
- The Action: What did you do to respond to the problem?
- The Result: What was the result of your action? Did you solve a problem or learn a lesson? What impact did that have?