Q: I will be graduating from college in a couple of months. Although I have excellent grades and lots of extra-curricular activities, I'm having a really hard time finding a job. From what I've experienced, it seems like companies aren't doing much college recruiting this year. What can I do to improve my chances of getting a good job, so I can start my career off right?
A: If you're a college student looking for an internship or your first job, the key to finding success is to distinguish yourself from other entry-level job seekers. Even with minimal experience, it's possible to impress hiring managers – if you take time to research their companies, adapt your resume and cover letter to their requirements and interview effectively. Let's take a look at how to customize your cover letters in a way that will capture a potential employer's attention.
- Tailor, Tailor, Tailor Your Resume and Cover Letter
- Send Your Cover Letter to a Real Person
- Tell Why the Company Interests You
- Explain Why You're Right for the Job
- Follow Up with a Call or Email
The biggest mistake people make in writing resumes and cover letters is taking a one-size-fits-all approach. If you want an employer to notice you, your written sales tools must speak directly to the company's needs. And customizing just the cover letter or the resume won't get the job done. Make them both unique, or don't bother doing it at all.
Your cover letter's greeting is your first opportunity to focus on the employer's hiring manager or person responsible for recruitment. Addressing your correspondence to a real person rather than "To Whom It May Concern" is a great way to spark a relationship. If you don't know the recruiter's name, check your college career center's employer files or call the company and ask. When your interviewer sees their name instead of, "Dear HR Person," they'll appreciate your initiative, perseverance and attention to detail.
The first paragraph of your cover letter gives you another chance to shine. Instead of the typical, "I saw your listing on CareerCast.com" or "at my school's career center," research the company and mention specific things about it that interest you. If you admire the organization's products, services, innovative direction, culture or training program, say so right after the greeting. This simple acknowledgment will set you apart from the vast majority of applicants who haven't done their homework.
In your second paragraph, highlight the reasons that you're qualified for the job. Since you probably have little paid experience, show how your classes, internships and activities parallel the opening's requirements. If you tailor your accomplishments to the position, you will continue to hold your reader's attention.
Conclude with something like, "I will contact you next week to confirm receipt of my resume, answer any immediate questions and schedule an interview." Then follow up as promised. Employers admire decisive candidates who go after what they want.