Honestly, I didn’t use to think cover letters warranted paying much attention to but after receiving so many questions and working on a few with coachees, I now see that there is too much info out there and none of it entirely related to environmental industries. Here is an overview of my advice.
Cover letters are basically simple, so for starters let’s keep it that way. They consist of a business letter format with three paragraphs of content:
Start with “Dear hiring managers,” unless there was a person’s name in the submit to information.
Paragraph 1 - Focus on thanking them for the chance to apply and why you applied. If someone referred you, include them, and their title here (the person reading it may not know who they are).
Paragraph 2 - Why should they choose you? If you’re applying to a research position with the Nature Conservancy along with 200 other people, what makes you the best choice. Seriously, would you hire you?
Paragraph 3 - Tell them how much you look forward to helping them accomplish something, whether its the project you’ll be working on or their mission, and how much you look forward to speaking to them in person in the interview.
Most people write way too much. When you write too much you actually have the chance of saying something that will get you knocked out of the interview list rather than trying to convince them by piling on details. Stick to what is important to them. In each sentence, can you identify why that content would be significant to the hiring team? If you find yourself trying to adjust the font or the margins to make it all fit, you’ve written too much. Here are some other dos and don’ts.
At the end of the day cover letters, if they are read at all, are often looked at as a way to compare applicants when they can’t decide between resumes. Cover letters can seem “easier” so you might be tempted to focus your efforts there. Be sure your resume is the star of the show and then augment it, “connect the dots” as Casey Duffy - Career Advisor at SUNY ESF, calls it to point them to items of significance on the resume and why you are without a doubt the best candidate and fit for the position.
You might also like: The Job Search Checklist Download
If you have an environmental career question you'd like to see answered in a future post, feel free to leave a comment or send me an email.