Recent grads and others who are new to the workforce often find themselves stumped when it comes to writing a cover letter. What do you write in the letter if you have no work experience? Rather than learning how to write a cover letter with no experience, these jobseekers will often skip writing one altogether. Don’t make the same mistake! Just by writing a cover letter, you put yourself ahead of the competition. Recruiters and hiring managers look at cover letters to get more information about your background and ability to communicate. A cover letter can be the tie breaker between two similarly qualified candidates. The following guidelines will help you write a cover letter, even if you have no experience in the workforce.
The 5 sections of a cover letter
When you’re writing a cover letter with no experience, you should focus on your transferrable skills to get noticed by hiring managers. Your cover letter should include five main sections:
1. A personalized greeting
Addressing the hiring manager is a great way to get noticed. It shows you were interested enough in the role to do your research. Whenever possible, address your cover letter to a specific person by researching the hiring manager’s name on LinkedIn. If you can’t find the name of the recruiter or hiring manager, it’s okay to address your letter to “Dear Hiring Manager.” However, do your best to avoid generic greetings such as “To Whom It May Concern.”
2. Opening paragraph
The first paragraph of your cover letter is your mission statement. It should outline why you’re applying to the company, what position you’re applying for, and your motivation for applying to this specific position. If you have a connection at the company, you’ll want to mention it here. For example, you might write:
My name is Heather Masterson, and I’m a recent graduate of Penn State University. I graduated in May with a BA in Marketing and a minor in Advertising. Jessica Smith, a project manager in the marketing department, suggested that I apply for the open Marketing Associate position at Giant Company. With my academic background and skills, I believe I’d be a great fit for your agency.
3. Second paragraph
In the second paragraph of your cover letter, write your “hook.” Especially for a job seeker writing a cover letter with no experience, you’ll want to clearly outline what you have to offer the company. In this paragraph, you should make a connection between your qualifications and the job ad. Since you don’t have work experience, you’ll want to discuss your relevant transferrable skills, such as strong written and verbal communication. You might also mention relevant experience like an internship, volunteer experience, or leadership role you held in school or sports. For example, you might write:
Your job ad makes it clear that you seek a candidate with strong written and verbal communications skills, and someone who understands email marketing best practices. During my time at Penn State, I had the opportunity to take two email marketing courses, which taught me clear written and verbal communication skills and allowed me to become comfortable making presentations in front of large groups.
The body of your cover letter should be one short paragraph or a bulleted list of your qualifications, value proposition, or examples of your accomplishments. If you’ve won academic awards, mention them in this section. For example, you might write:
During my last year at Penn State, I spearheaded a campaign to make the campus more eco-friendly. As the leader of Green Campus, I organized brainstorming sessions, wrote the final version of the campaign, and oversaw the creation of a page on the University’s website and signage that was hung around campus. During the first year of the campaign, the campus collected 20% more recycling and 30% more compost than the previous year.
5. Closing paragraph
Your closing paragraph should summarize the contents of the letter and reiterate what you’d bring to the table. It should also thank the employer for taking time to read both your cover letter and résumé. Remember to include your contact information in this section. For example, you might write:
With my background in marketing and communications and my leadership experience, I’m confident that I could bring a lot to the table in the Marketing Associate role. I can be reached at 555-555-5555. Thank you for taking the time to review my credentials. I look forward to hearing from you soon!
Now that you know the main sections of a cover letter and how you can write one without a lot of experience, you'll be ready to churn out these documents like it's your job—but if you follow these tips, you won't have to for long. Best of luck in your career search!
Find more cover letter and résumé tips in our Internships and Careers section.