(NOTE TO PRESENTER: Before beginning tell the audience that the SlideShare link to the PowerPoint and handouts will be emailed, so they don’t need to take extensive notes)
Thank you for coming to today’s workshop. Regardless whether writing cover letters is new to you or whether you’ve been writing them for years, this workshop will help you focus on what’s important to include and how best to tailor the document for each position that you apply to.
A cover letter is a concise, professional document tailored to a specific position, organization, and industry. The purpose is to express your interest, highlight the skills, knowledge, and qualities that make you a good fit, and demonstrate how you can contribute to the success of the organization.
This is a marketing document where you make the case that your specific skills/experiences make you a good fit for THEM – the emphasis is not on how great you are in a broad, non-specific sense; the emphasis is on how your past experiences have prepared you to utilize your skills in a meaningful and productive way for the organization.
Learning Outcomes: (NOTE TO PRESENTER: these are summarized in the talking points below): Students will learn how to analyze a job/internship description to identify relevant qualifications Students will learn how to conduct research regarding a job/internship before writing a cover letter Students will learn how to appropriately structure and tailor their cover letter based on the job/internship Students will demonstrate telling their story to address a job/internship qualification
There are many important elements to consider when writing a cover letter. First, you need to analyze what a company is specifically looking for and do background research. Next you need to utilize a clear structure to tell your story in the actual document. And, finally, you need to articulate how your skills (as evidenced by specific examples from your past experience) demonstrate how you can add value to an organization. Today, we will focus on aspects of each of these elements with a few specific learning outcomes in mind, and we will look at a couple cover letter examples as well.
LEARNING OUTCOMES: (1) Students will learn how to analyze a job/internship description to identify relevant qualifications; (2) Students will learn how to conduct research regarding a job/internship before writing a cover letter
HANDOUT/ACTIVITY: Cover Letter Structure & Job Description (Undergrad) – EITHER the Wells Fargo or A&F
Before you begin writing the cover letter, you want to think about who your audience is and what they’re looking for. In most cases, the audience will be Human Resources Managers, Hiring Managers, and future colleagues. One way to find out more about what they’re looking for is to closely analyze the job/role description.
(NOTE TO PRESENTER: Hand out Cover Letter Structure & Job Description (Undergrad) Handout)
ACTIVITY: Analyze Job Description Here is a real job description that I pulled from our eRecruiting database (where employers post positions specifically targeting Duke students). One of the first things that you should do before writing a cover letter is analyze the job description and pick out a few of the most important skills or qualifications. You can start to do this by doing a simple discourse/textual analysis where you highlight the key words and count up how many times similar skills/qualifications are mentioned. So what I want you to do right now is read through the job description and pick out the 3-4 most important skills/qualifications based simply on how many times they’re mentioned. You can use the resulting list of skills a possible structure/argument in your actual cover letter. NOTE TO PRESENTER: Give them 5 minutes to analyze the job description and then have them volunteer what they believe to be the most important skills/qualifications. It can be helpful to write this list up a white/blackboard. NOTE TO PRESENTER: Here’s one possible structure for the Wells Fargo Job Description based on the Committee’s discourse analysis, but feel free to do your own analysis and suggested structure: Motivation/Relevant Academic Abilities Communication Skills Teamwork NOTE TO PRESENTER: Here’s one possible structure for Abercrombie Job Description based on the Committee’s discourse analysis, but feel free to do your own analysis and suggested structure: Leadership/Responsible Passion/Knowledge of industry Analytical Skills or Communication Skills There are obviously many other potentially relevant skills, some even explicitly stated within the job description, but just because you may not structure or focus the cover letter on these skills doesn’t mean that you need to ignore them. These other skills are great to mention within your examples as supplemental evidence. For example, leadership may be one of the primary skills that you’ve identified while a technical skill may be secondary. In the body of the cover letter, which we’ll talk about coming up soon, you can use a story that focuses on your leadership qualities and briefly describe or mention how you also utilized a specific technical skills (e.g., C++ programming) to help you accomplish your tasks. NOTE TO PRESENTER: You may also want to mention other methods to analyze a job description, such as creating a word cloud using a site like Wordle (wordle.net)
It’s also useful to go beyond just the job/role description and find out more information about an organization to better inform how you’ll tailor your cover letter. ASK: Where can you get the information for why you want to work for the company? (Here’s a list of possible research avenues if they don’t already mention each of them: company websites, info sessions, info interviews with current and former employers, etc.) Although doing your research can be time-consuming, it only gives you an edge when cover constructing your cover letter and tailoring your story, you may also find out that the job/company/industry isn’t a great fit for you.
LEARNING OUTCOME: (2) Students will learn how to conduct research regarding a job/internship before writing a cover letter
Certain industries may have different expectations for cover letters. Do your research and talk with professionals in your targeted industry to make sure that your cover letter matches the expectations. This list briefly details some of the different industry expectations, however within these specific industries, there can be differences amongst companies. The main point is to do your research and to tailor your cover letter based on the appropriate expectations.
(NOTE TO PRESENTER: Go through the example industries listed on the slide, but emphasize that this is not an all-inclusive list!)
Talk with industry professionals, get their advice, and take it. For example, if they say don’t send a cover letter, don’t send one.
LEARNING OUTCOME: (3) Students will learn how to appropriately structure and tailor their cover letter based on the job/internship
Now that you’ve analyzed the job requirements and done your background research, it’s time to think about actually writing the cover letter. On the back of your job description you’ll find a possible structure for writing cover letters. First off, I want to emphasize that this is ONE way to organize your cover letters. We’ve found that this structure can be useful for students to help them organize their argument and present it clearly to employers, but it’s just one structure that you can utilize. You just want to make sure that you structure your cover letter to clearly lay out your argument, connect your experiences to the qualifications/job requirements, and emphasize what you can do for them.
NOTE TO PRESENTER: Briefly mention the three major sections on the slide (i.e., Introduction, Body, Next Steps)
NOTE TO PRESENTER: Walk through the first couple sections of the Cover Letter Structure Handout, which is on the other side of Job Description - Mention the heading and professional salutation. Highlight the bolded part of the Introduction – here is some suggested terminology/talking points: “outlining your argument and the rest of the document” “creating a headline that clearly states why you’re qualified for this particular position” “this is where the analysis and research is most important – you’ve already identified your audience and what they’re looking for; now you clearly lay out how you possess those skills and qualifications” “self-reflection is an important part of this step because you have to thoughtfully consider how your past experiences and knowledge relate directly to what the employer is looking for”
NOTE TO PRESENTER: Briefly mention that the Body of the cover letter is where they are elaborating on their experiences to justify and give specific evidence for their argument that they articulated in the Introduction. This is how they will “demonstrate fit” with the organization. Mention to the students that the next two slides will have more information about this and an activity where they will demonstrate fit.
NOTE TO PRESENTER: Briefly mention that the final paragraph summarizes what they had previously said (e.g., their argument) and then lays out what the applicant’s next steps are. For example, if they were applying to a job through our eRecruiting system and the employer was doing on-campus interviews, they might say, “I look forward forward to interviewing with you on campus.” Or if they are applying at smaller company for a job/internship, they might say, “I will follow-up with a call in two weeks.” The latter approach might be a little assertive and direct (and it won’t be appropriate in every situation), but it can useful for these smaller, more specialized positions.
LEARNING OUTCOME: (4) Students will demonstrate telling their story to address a job/internship qualification
The body of your cover letter is your opportunity to give a little more detail about your experiences (than is typically found in the Resume) and offer specific pieces of evidence in support of your argument. You want to tell a couple brief stories about your experience: you can include the goal/purpose/challenge faced, the tasks you completed to accomplish the goal, the results (the more tangible/quantifiable the better), and most importantly, how these skills and experiences prepare you for this particular role or how you can add value to their organization.
If you’re having trouble identifying relevant qualifications/requirements from your research, another source to look at is the Gallup Organization’s research on skills that employers and looking for. These are what they term “21st century skills.” Skills such as real-world problem-solving, skilled communication and collaboration. I know that it can be difficult to think about ways in which you have done “real-world problem-solving” so you can look at a couple ways that Gallup has defined it: “worked on a long-term project that took several classes to complete” or “used what you were learning about to develop solutions to real-world problems in your community or in the world.” (NOTE TO PRESENTER: These two quotes are the actual survey questions that Gallup used, NOT examples for the cover letter). The cover letter is the place where you can elaborate on how you’ve done real-world problem-solving, collaboration, etc.
NOTE TO PRESENTER: “Gallup 21st Century Skills” is linked to their blog: http://thegallupblog.gallup.com/2013/05/what-works-in-schools-is-real-work_30.html
LEARNING OUTCOME: (4) Students will demonstrate telling their story to address a job/internship qualification
HANDOUT/ACTIVITY: Skills Bank Handout
(NOTE TO PRESENTER: Hand out the Skills Bank Handout)
In order to practice identifying skills and elaborating on your experience, take a look at the Skills Bank that I’m handing out. This is one way to think about constructing your stories based around the relevant skills and qualifications that you’ve previously identified. For example, if leadership skills were one of the really important qualifications, you put that down first, then think of where you’ve developed or used that skill, and finally, you briefly explain it in narrative form for the cover letter. You can do this for general skills, technical skills, or certifications – the important aspect is keeping the focus on the most relevant qualifications and then making the explicit connection the role/organization.
ACTIVITY: Demonstrate Fit by identifying relevant skills and elaborating on personal experience So let’s take a couple minutes right now and practice. Take one of the major skills/qualifications that we identified in the job description analysis. Put that down in the first column. Now, think about an example from your own personal experience and write out a couple sentences or a paragraph on your sheet that briefly explains the goal, how you accomplished it, any results, and how that directly connects with a particular role/organization (Note to students: feel free to choose your own employer/job for this part)
(NOTE TO PRESENTER: Go around the room and have each student <or a selection of them if it’s a large workshop> give their relevant skill and their cover letter paragraph. Critique if necessary)
HANDOUT/ACTIVITY: (1) 2 Cover Letter Examples Handout; (2) Cover Letter Evaluation; (3) Skills Bank Handout (already handed out)
(NOTE TO PRESENTER: Hand out the 2 Cover Letter Examples (Undergrad) Handout)
Here are two cover letter examples. I want to note that both of these cover letters don’t technically follow the structure that we talked about today. Remember that the structure is just one possible way to setup your cover letter.
(NOTE TO PRESENTER: Refer to Cover Letter Examples Handout – You may want to go through one or both of the examples and highlight the areas that you think are done well or that students should focus on)
Finally, make sure to proofread your cover letters. The number one issue we hear about from employers is that students misspell or mistakenly put the wrong company or recruiter name. You’re usually writing a lot of cover letters, and you don’t want to lose out because of that!
(NOTE TO PRESENTER: Handout the evaluation) The last thing we need to do before leaving is complete the evaluation. You’ll also notice a list of resources on the back of the Skills Bank Handout.
Thank you for your time and attention today.
Cover Letter Writing- Undergraduate Students