UW Graduate School

May 17, 2018

Making a strong first impression when applying for jobs

There are multiple components to a successful job application, including a resume or curriculum vitae (CV), letters of reference and a cover letter. All are important, but you just get one chance to make a strong first impression and convince the reviewers to give the rest of your application materials a look.

The cover letter is the first opportunity you have to convince the hiring manager or your future boss that you are a great fit for the job. Even if you use primarily the same CV or letters of reference for many applications, it is always well worth the time to tailor and target your cover letter each time.

Regardless of sector, and whether requested or not, the cover letter allows you to connect specifics from your experience to the position and organization. Here are some tips for writing a cover letter that will help you stand out from the applicant pool:

  • Highlight and expand on some of the details listed in your CV or resume, but do not merely repeat what is already detailed there. The cover letter, or statement of interest, is the chance for you to bring your resume to life for a reviewer.
  • Use specific examples to convince your future employer that you are the right person to do the job. Similar to letters of reference, don’t simply list your skills and traits. Give specific examples on how you used the desired skills to successfully solve a problem or move a project forward. A detailed description will provide great insight into you as a person and a future employee.
  • Read the job description and personalize your letter for the specific job posting. Most readers can readily tell when you’ve sent out cover letters in bulk, with little effort to address the hiring organization and skills required for a particular job. When compared to a well-researched letter, the candidate with the non-specific letter will surely not be invited for an interview.
  • Your letter should include the skills and competencies outlined in the job posting. Many companies use computers to perform the first screen during the evaluation process. If your letter is not responsive to the job posting, then your application might be discarded prior to the start of the real evaluation.
  • Be concise. Hiring managers don’t have time to read long letters, especially when a single job posting receives hundreds of inquires. While providing enough specific details to stimulate excitement for your application and a more careful review, be sure to keep you letter to two pages (or one). The goal of a letter is to get invited for an interview, and there you’ll have the opportunity to expand at length!

As you start to think about your future job search, we encourage you to attend the Future Faculty Fellows workshop that takes place in June each year or check out the online guides provided by the Career & Internship Center. You can always reach out to us at the OPA with questions, or make an appointment to go through draft materials with you.