How can I learn what will impress prospective employers?
In order to impress prospective employers when writing a cover letter, you must first know what they are looking for in candidates. Learning more about the company itself—and what they value—can help you do this. Here are some suggestions:
- Read the job advertisement carefully
- Research the corporate website, read and try to understand their mission statement (sometimes an organization's mission may not be overtly stated)
- Call "insiders" (people that work with the company)
- Refer to your university's career center if you are at college
Information about each suggestion are covered in the sections that follow.
Job seekers at Purdue University may find value in the Purdue career Wiki here.
The following are additional Purdue OWL resources to help you write your cover letter:
- Cover Letter Workshop- Formatting and Organization
- Example Employment Documents
- Cover Letters 1: Quick Tips
- Cover Letters 3: Writing Your Cover Letter
- Cover Letter Presentation
- Job Search Documents for Working Class Positions
How do I read job advertisements carefully?
One way to learn about a company and what it values is to carefully read the job ad. Job advertisements describe the qualifications and skills a company is looking for in a candidate. Therefore, they are good resources to learn what a company values...they spell it out for you.
Here are some tips to help you pull important information from a job ad:
- Identify and circle key words in the ad, words that signal what an employer considers as important.
- List how you can meet those skill qualifications and perform the required duties.
- List your proofs of specific skills by describing an experience in which you gained/used that skill.
Example: What are the key words in this job description?
Key words: highly motivated, customer-oriented (customer service), communication, multi-task, public relations material
Proof you can offer to meet these keywords:
- I have kept a 3.8 GPA while being treasurer of the Liberal Arts Honors Council and tutoring other students (motivated, communication, multi-task).
- I have worked as a waiter and as a sales manager at a computer store (customer service, communication).
- I have written brochure, catalog, and newsletter copy for various communication classes (public relations, communication).
As you can see, the key words include implications about the skills, accomplishments, personality traits, and levels of education/experience your employer desires. Once you know what the company wants, you can start that list and be one step closer to your cover letter!
How do I research corporate websites?
One way to learn about a company (or non-prof/educational institutions) and their values (in their employees and their work results) is to read the company's website. Here are some tips on how and what to research:
- Use a search engine (like google.com) if you do not know a company's web address
- Type the name of the company into the search bar, and it should take you to the site
- Look for key words describing the company and its employees (progressive, innovative, caring, conservative)
- Remember that repeated words reveal particularly strong values (you might want to talk about these values in your cover letter)
Once you find examples of the skills and qualifications the company values, you know what skills to describe in your cover letter. As with the job ads, a corporate website only gives you the key words. You now have to supply your cover letter with proof that you possess some of these "key words" by describing a few experiences.
How do I talk to insiders of the company?
Talking to actual employees ("insiders") of a company is an excellent way to learn what the company looks for in candidates. There are a couple of ways to go about this:
- Talk to someone you know in the company (friend, relative, etc.).
- Call the company to ask for more information (yes, you're allowed to do this!).
Start by explaining that you plan to apply for a job and would like to know more about the company. They may send you information in brochures and letters. Then, you can read these documents for key words, just as with job ads and corporate websites. If, however, the contact is willing to answer questions, here are some ideas on what to ask:
- "What kind of person is your company looking for?"
- "What qualifications are the most important for this position?"
- "Is there anyone else I can contact to learn more about your company?"
- "Is there anything you think someone with my experience should do to improve my qualifications?"
Once you have a list of the values and skills a company looks for, you will have a better idea of how to focus your own cover letter.
How do I refer to my university's career center?
One way to learn about a company and what it values is to refer to your university's career center. Most universities have a career center to help their student population with the transition to the business world. Because of their connections to different businesses and industries, a career center may be a good place to ask about a company's values.
There are really two connections to search for:
- Ask if the employees at the career center know anything about the company you are interested in.
- Ask if the university has connections with that company (does it visit the career fairs?).
Even if the career center has no connection with the company, they may be able to point you in the right direction to learn more and prepare to write your cover letter.
What if I do not have a qualification the employer is seeking?
First of all, do not panic. Then, go ahead and apply.
You may decide to not apply for jobs because you feel you lack an important qualification, whether it is the amount of experience or familiarity with a computer program. But you may be hired for another skill you do have!
You also may not realize that you do have a particular qualification. Remember to look at your past accomplishments and employment history. Chances are, you have a skill similar to what the company desires, you just might call it something different.
Consider this list of transferable skills (skills commonly found in most job descriptions) before deciding you are not qualified:
- Ability to meet deadlines
- Ability to work independently
- Computer skills
- Interpersonal skills
- Leadership qualities
- Multi-tasking ability
- Oral communications skills
- Teamwork skills
- Written communications skills