How To Write a Cover Letter: 11 Great Tips For Graduate Students

Dec. 18, 2020

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Cover letters can help differentiate you from other job applicants and be the determining factor of landing your dream job. By taking the time to craft a custom cover letter, a single sheet of paper can help communicate all the human elements that a resume may fall short of capturing about yourself. 

But what do employers and recruiters have to say about how to write a cover letter? What are the best tips they have to offer for graduate students who are writing a cover letter?

We asked 11 employers for their best cover letter tips. Here is what they had to share.


Let it Set the Stage

In many ways, cover letters should provide background information and context to your resume, while simultaneously addressing how that resume addresses the specific requirements of the job opportunity. The cover letter is your opportunity to "set the stage" and to convince the hiring manager why your specific set of skills, experiences and interests will provide value to their team and its objectives.

Andrew Horrigan '11 BSBA (Management Information Systems), Product Manager at Cisco

Research the Hiring Manager

If possible, find out who the hiring manager is and look them up on LinkedIn. Do your research on the company you're applying for. What's their mission statement and how do they portray their company culture? Hopefully what you're looking for in a job is reflected by those things. Make sure the hiring manager knows that and understands who you are and what drives you. A resume is often about as robotic as things can be. Make sure your cover letter is the opposite—personalize it and let yourself shine through.

Joshua Schlag ’05 BS (Computer Science) ’11 MBA, Digital Marketing Manager at Pyramid Analytics

Utilize Career Development Resources

The University of Arizona and Eller College of Management go to great lengths to make sure students are prepared for their impending career journey. Because cover letters are so important to getting your foot in the door, there are several career development resources online and on campus to take advantage of. The university’s cover letter builder serves as a nice template to get started. And of course, it never hurts to make an appointment with an Eller Career Coach through eSMS to have a professional review your letter before submission. 

Brett Farmiloe, ’06 BSBA (Accounting), Founder, Terkel

Discover Past Samples of the Position

Do your research on the company and personalize your cover letter to the role for which you are applying. Don't be afraid to Google, "How to write a good cover letter for X position." Seriously, it helps! There is so much information out there from various perspectives—applicants, hiring managers, etc. Most importantly be yourself and let your personality come through. And don't forget to spell check!

Mariam Nikola '17 MS MIS, Consultant at Point B

Highlight Your Soft Skills

When writing a professional cover letter, there are a couple things you can do to set yourself apart from the pack. First, make sure you tailor your letter to the specific position you are applying for. This should not be a general, "one size fits all" letter—be sure to discuss specific details surrounding the role or the company itself. Secondly, this is an opportunity for you to show a little bit of your personality. Obviously, you want to remain professional, but this is a great time to highlight some of your soft skills that might not be fully conveyed through your resume.  

Brian Ellis ’17 BSBA (Management), Staffing Manager at Randstad Office and Administrative Professionals

Fill in the “Why” Gaps

As a talent advisor, I review a lot of applicants and agree that a cover letter can be a great way to stand apart, if it is done correctly. A great cover letter for me covers the ‘why’ that I cannot understand from just a resume alone. It should clearly state why you are interested in the role, what your goals are for utilizing your graduate degree (if recently graduated) and explain any career pivots reflected on your resume. If you answer those questions in a direct, concise manner it will add value to your application.

Monica Larson, ’11 BSBA (Marketing) ‘20 MBA, Talent Advisor

Tell Your Story

A cover letter is your opportunity to tell your story—tying your experience and personal interests into why you want a position and why you are the best candidate for it. Paint the picture of your journey and what about the position excites you personally and professionally. Similar to your resume, keep it short and sweet. No need to repeat what’s already on your resume. Recruiters and hiring managers don’t have time to comb through a novel, so you need to engage them with as few words as possible while also grabbing their attention.

Kelly Castoro, ’06 BA (Spanish, Portuguese), Project Manager at Squarespace

Tailor Each Cover Letter to the Position You Are Applying

Be sure to research the role and customize your cover letter for each position, relating your experience to the particular role you are applying for. Personalization is key—research who you are sending the cover letter to and address the letter to them directly. End your letter with a call to action, stating you will follow up by phone or email if you haven’t heard from anyone. Follow ups are very important! 

Jessica Rosenzweig, ’15 BSBA (Business Management), Account Manager at PeopleWare Staffing

Communicate Bankability and Personality 

Your cover letter answers two crucial questions; are you bankable and are you someone the company will enjoy working with? Communicate bankability with your knowledge of the company, industry and why your skills, capabilities and interests are a great fit. Share your passion for their mission, culture, brand—whatever excites you about becoming a member of their team.  

When conveyed through a concise, well-formulated, well-worded cover letter, you demonstrate the ability to write an effective business case—communicating that you are a ready professional and worthy teammate who will hit the ground running.

Theresa L Garcia, ’83 BSBA (Human Resources), Senior Change Management and Organization Capability Consultant at Boeing

Keep it Concise but Compelling

A cover letter is your chance to speak directly to the hiring team and tell them why you are not only the best match for the position for which you are applying but also give them additional insight into yourself as an individual that is less visible from your experience.

A great cover letter should be attention grabbing and touch upon the qualities that make you stand out from others in the applicant pool, highlight both your recent and most distinguished accomplishments and drive home why you are the right person for the job. Professionalism is always important, but don’t be hesitant to put your voice into the letter to let your personality shine through. Research the company, understand where they currently are, where they are going and show why you are the right person to get them from point A to point B. Recruiters spend a lot of time reviewing applicants and making yourself stand apart from the crowd is key. Keep it concise but compelling!

Matt Reineberg, ’14 BSBA (Marketing), Senior Talent Acquisition Sourcer at Cox Enterprises

Highlight the “Why”

Why are you applying to this company? Why do you want this position? Your cover letter should aim to answer the why behind applying for the job. Conveying an interest and excitement for working specifically for this job at this company, rather than a desire to get any job anywhere that will give you money, can go a long way. Show the company that they should hire you and your passion over someone that might have the skills needed for the job, but doesn’t care about the work as much as you do. 

Ryan Nouis, Trupath 

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