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Cover Letters that Stand Out from the College Crowd

Q: I will be graduating from college in a couple of months. Although I have excellent grades and lots of activities, Iím having a terrible time finding a job. From what Iíve experienced, companies are doing very little college recruiting. What can I do to improve my odds of getting off to a good start in my career?

If you are a college student looking for an internship or your first job, you'll want to distinguish yourself from other entry-level job seekers. Even with minimal experience, it's possible to impress a recruiter, if you research her company, adapt your resume and cover letter to her requirements and interview and follow up effectively. Let's take a look at how to customize your cover letters to capture a potential employer's attention.

Tailor, Tailor, Tailor

The biggest mistake people make in writing resumes and cover letters is taking a one-size-fits-all approach. If you want a recruiter to notice you, your written sales tools must speak directly to her needs. Customizing the cover letter or the resume won't get the job done. It's tailor both or die!

Send Your Letter to a Real Person

Your letter's greeting is your first opportunity to focus on the recruiter. Addressing your correspondence to 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's receptionist. When your interviewer sees her name instead of, "Dear HR Person," she will appreciate your initiative, perseverance and attention to detail.

Tell Why the Company Interests You

The first paragraph of your cover letter gives you another chance to shine. Instead of the typical, "I saw your ad in the Dallas Morning News" or "at the career center," use your research to mention specific things about the organization that interest you. If you admire its products, services, innovative direction, culture or training program, say so right after the greeting. This simple acknowledgement will set you apart from the vast majority of applicants who haven't done their homework.

Explain Why You're Right for the Job

In your second paragraph, highlight the reasons you are 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.

Follow Up with a Call or Email

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. 

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