Cover letters are something that not very many people hear about until they are well into their college career, but over the past few years the tendency for an employer to ask for a cover letter has become more and more popular. I was curious to find out why that is and why cover letters are so important to employers in the hiring process so I decided to sit down with someone who has had to interview and hire people in the past, my mother. The purpose of this interview was to ask her not only why cover letters were important but also to get her own personal view on why, if they are so important, don’t people hear about them until they are well into college as well as maybe any advice she had on how to write a cover letter.
I began by asking her when she first heard of a cover letter and as it so happens she never heard about them until she had lost her job and started going back to school, which is crazy and she said she feels like if she had heard about them sooner she might have felt more prepared in applying to school and getting a new job. Then we started talking about why a cover letter is important to the employer when they are looking to fill a position. She told me the biggest reason that they are important is because “they give you a sense of the persons’ character and personality (if done right) that you can’t get from a resume and that might just be what gets them that interview.” This reminded me of something I learned while working at Career Services at Oregon State University, which is that a resume is the facts of what experienced you have gained and when and where you completed said experience, but a cover letter is the passion; The passion of not only why you did said experiences but also (and more importantly) why you are looking to start this new experience that you are applying for. As an employer my mother said that there is nothing better than reading about why someone wants to work for you and why they are so excited to be a part of your organization, because I mean who wants to hire someone who isn’t excited to be there right?
So advice from an employer’s view on how to write a cover letter is very simple in my mother’s eyes, “Cover letters take time and thought. You can’t just throw something together because you don’t know what to do and hope that it works. If you don’t know how to do something ask, plain and simple and it is no different with cover letters. There is tons of good information out there that can help you with all the formatting and content of what should be in each paragraph. But it is not enough to simply look up an example and then just wing it on writing one. You also have to research the company or organization to which you are applying and ask yourself why you want to work for them. If you can’t convince yourself that you are excited, you will never convince an employer. But the most important thing is to make sure that you are tailoring in to the company and even to the person who is going to be interviewing you. This way they know that you did your homework and it shows that you are the kind of person who doesn’t take the easy way out. So if you are applying for something that requires a cover letter take your time, do the research, put some thought into it, and ASK FOR HELP. A second pair of eyes is always helpful too.” The only thing that I have to add to this is that a great place to ask for help is somewhere like the Career Services Center at Oregon State University, where people are trained on how to help you write and effective cover letter.
The last question I asked was “When do you think students should learn about and start practicing writing cover letters?” Her answer: “If it were up to me students would start with cover letters and resumes in the 8th grade, because this way when they go to look for a job while they are in high school they have already been exposed to the concept of a resume and cover letter can at least write one that will make the employer take notice. Instead of being so lost and maybe not getting a job or interview simply because they were never taught a basic skill that isn’t going to go away at any point in their life.” This is just something to think about. Why is it that some people can graduate high school never even hearing of a cover letter much less learning how to write one? If you or someone you know has anything to do with primary education this might be something that we can look into, it may not be something as drastic as making a full class or anything but maybe just a workshop that students can take even just in high school that will give them the chance to at least get some kind of exposure to this necessary skill.
posted by Alyssa Zeigler, Career Assistant