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Cover Letters for Dummies

September 29, 2016


Kidding, none of you are dummies. But cover letters can be scary! And there's no reason they should be. If you were able to make it to our resume workshop last Wednesday, you might have had the chance to sit down with Mary Sterenberg and discuss the do’s and don’ts of cover letters.


It was nothing but relevant, useful information that can help each one of us when it comes time to apply for big kid jobs. Here is what she had to say:


  • Cover letters are not throw-a-way’s. They are one of the first things to be seen by the hiring manager, and should be a one pager that highlights and expands on the transferrable skills in your resume – it should not be a narrative of it.

  • That being said, focus on how YOU can meet the EMPLOYER’s needs. What can you do for them? Not what they can do for you. Do your research.

  • Show how your prior experience transfers into the skills and assets they are looking for. If an employer is looking for a team player, reference that time in class you contributed to your group project, and that your experience can help the company. Pick one or two examples to expand on. Show don’t tell. Use specific examples.

  • Don’t waste the first and last paragraphs. The first should include a one-sentence pitch of why they should care about you. Use the same verbiage the company used in the job description, and name drop, with permission, if you know of a connection.

  • The goal in an interview is the job; the goal in a cover letter is an interview. Thank them at the end of the letter and provide a call to action, or state clearly when you will be following up.

  • There are a variety of approaches you can take to your cover letter. You can highlight internal qualities vs. experience. You can emphasize two contrasting work experiences. Or, you can elaborate on what doesn't necessarily have a place in your resume. For example, a campaigns class, where you develop and present a campaign proposal to a real organization, wouldn't necessarily fit into your resume, but it would be perfect for a cover letter. Make sense?

  • Lastly, and most obviously, check, check and check again for proper grammar, spelling and punctuation. Convey a genuine interest and understanding of the company, and don’t be afraid to show your personality. It might just set you apart from the rest.


Cover letters can be intimidating if you have never written one, but we are lucky enough to have great resources available to us as Ohio State students. Career Counseling and Support Services offer an immense amount of support in resume writing, cover letters, interviewing and job advice. See them for any further questions! 

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