Unless you took a business writing course or two, trying to apply for jobs when you’re fresh out of college can be a nightmare. You need to know how to write a cover letter with no experience, and you’d better get comfortable, because — chances are — your first won’t be your last.
If your parents are of a certain age, they might not be well acquainted with the cover letter practice. The time when you could just mail off a bunch of resumes and hope for the best is over. Nowadays, employers expect applicants to write a new, tailored cover letter for each job posting.
When confronted with these expectations, many recent graduates have a lot of questions, such as: What can I possibly say in a cover letter that isn’t in my resume? How am I supposed to write a cover letter when I have no experience? And how can they expect me to change up my cover letter every time, when I don’t know what to say in the first place?
Don’t fret. I’m going to teach you how to write a cover letter with no experience, and, once you’re through, you’ll be able to use it again and again, with minimal hassle. Sound good? Great! Let’s get started.
How to Write a Cover Letter with No Experience
Learn Proper Cover Letter Format
Some employers will give you a hint as to what they want included in your cover letter, and some won’t. No matter whether you’re submitting a physical or digital copy, the format of your cover letter shouldn’t change. There are a very few minor changes that should be made to cover letters submitted within the body of an email, which we’ll come to in a bit.
Always use a conservative, easy-to-read font. Your cover letter should fit comfortably on one page. That means no using tiny text to fit three pages of your life story on one sheet of paper. Don’t super-size your font to make yourself seem more exciting, either. A font size somewhere between 10 and 13 pt, with a cover letter that takes up at least one half of the page, should do the trick.
Try your best to find the name and contact information of the hiring manager, editor, or HR representative. Even if you aren’t correct, just doing your research will put you miles ahead of the “To whom it may concern” and “Dear Sir or Madam” crowds.
Your entire cover letter should be aligned left. Don’t justify it, and don’t right-align the date, closure, and/or signature.
Paragraphs are not indented. Instead, put an 8-10 pt space after each one, and after each part. Three parts of your cover letter will use basic line spacing instead of these large gaps, and I’ll identify these as we go along. I find that 1.08 is a comfortable line spacing in Word; your mileage my vary.
There are nine distinct parts to a cover letter, which we’ll now go over one by one.
Your Contact Information
This is one part of your cover letter that will use basic line spacing. When you are sending a cover letter in the body of an email, leave off this part.
Your contact information should list the following:
- Your name
- Your address
- Your primary phone number
- Your secondary phone number, if applicable
- Your email address
Format your address as you would on an envelope, with the city, state and zip below the street number and name. If applying internationally, be sure to include your country code in your phone numbers.
Once again, if you’re submitting your cover letter in the body of an email, you can leave this out.
Write out your date. It’s not 5/4/16. It’s May 5, 2016 or 5 May 2016. Pick a style and be consistent.
Employer Contact Information
This part of your cover letter will use basic line spacing. Here, you want to identify the hiring manager, editor, or HR representative you researched. Include what you have of the following information:
- Their name
- Their job title
- The company, website, or publication
- Their phone number
- Their email address
If you get all of these, great! At the very least, you should have three of the five. I have submitted cover letters with only the company name, but that should be avoided at all costs.
Although it has become common practice to use “Hi First Name” and “Hello First Name” in many business emails, those are not appropriate for your cover letter salutation.
“Dear Ms. Last Name” and “Dear Mr. Last Name” are your safest options. If you were unable to find any contact information, “Dear Hiring Manager” will suffice. Follow up this salutation with a comma or colon, and continue to the next section of your cover letter.
The Opening Paragraph
Time to shine! Your opening paragraph should immediately tell the reader to which job you are applying and why.
I am passionate about BLANK and would love to join YOUR ORGANIZATION as a JOB TITLE. In doing so, I expect to earn invaluable experience working with TEAM DESCRIPTION to DO THE STUFF THEY DO.
Here’s what it should look like when you fill in the blanks:
I am passionate about the written word and would love to join the Lady Magazine team as a Feature Writer. In doing so, I expect to earn invaluable experience working with an energetic and diverse panel of writers and editors to produce entertaining and thought-provoking content for my fellow feminists.
Feel free to emulate the language you see on the employer’s website or in the job posting. For example, if they describe themselves as “diverse,” make sure something about you is “eclectic.”
You should have no more than two body paragraphs in your cover letter. One is preferred.
I graduated from COLLEGE with my DEGREE in MONTH AND YEAR. Since graduation, I have focused on PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT. TALK ABOUT ANY MAJOR PROJECTS, INTERNSHIPS, ETC.
After you’ve worked professionally for a few months, you should leave your university information in your resume. For a cover letter with no experience, however, you need to include it.
I graduated from Pennsylvania State University with my BA English in May 2016. Since graduation, I have focused on building my writing portfolio. In January 2015, I began an internship with Philly Belle online magazine. As an editorial assistant, I became familiar with the processes involved in running an online magazine, including finding new talent, scheduling content, and editing others’ writing to fit the publication’s unique voice.
Note: you should only include projects, internships, and activities that are relevant to the job you want. Feel free to play fast and loose here; a semester spent as the president of your school’s drama club can be a leg up toward getting that entry-level management position.
Here’s where you talk about what you’ll bring to the table. You can also explain your shortcomings, but don’t focus on them.
When I was looking for my first jobs and internships, I had been writing and editing for a decade, but not professionally. What little pay I had received amounted to maybe $100 — barely even pocket money. Here’s what my closing paragraph looked like:
Although I have ten years of experience writing and copyediting, very little of it has been for pay. Therefore, by securing a job at Lady Magazine, I hope to work with your team to expand both of our audiences. I am happy to have found a publication that is dedicated to delivering funny, feminist content to women, and would be thrilled to work with them toward a common goal.
Compare that to my opening paragraph above, and you’ll see I’m reiterating much of the same information. This wraps the cover letter up in a nice, symmetrical way.
Some cover letter writing guides recommend that you close by telling the hiring manager when you plan to call her back. Don’t do this. It may be weeks, or even months, before an employer takes down its job listing and assesses the job documents received.
Here’s how to write your cover letter closure:
I wish you all the best, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.
That’s it. Verbatim. That’s all you need.
If you must contact your prospective employer, call or email the hiring manager on a Monday morning, two weeks after you submit your application. Be brief and polite. Do not throw in additional information about your candidacy. Just say you are checking in to make sure your job documents were received, and wish her well. Don’t contact her again unless you are offered a follow-up interview.
Cover letter signatures use basic line spacing. You should always include:
- Your name
- Your primary phone number
- Your email address
If you are submitting your cover letter in the body of an email, include everything from your contact information above.
When submitting a physical copy, be sure to leave room for your handwritten signature above your typed name.
You may also include:
- Your website or portfolio URL
- Your Twitter handle
- Your LinkedIn URL
Feel free to add your Instagram handle and Facebook URL as well, if you are applying for a position where your web presence may be applicable. This is of particular use to creatives, such as photographers, artists, and models. Do not include this information on your application for, say, the open bank teller position at your local Wells Fargo.
Have any more questions about how to write a cover letter with no experience? Drop me a line in the comments!
Image Credit: Olu Eletu