Though it’s exciting to think about the possibilities in a new role or at a new company, job searching is a challenge. It’s daunting to comb through job boards, looking for positions that match your skill set and companies that match your values. It’s exhausting packing your calendar with networking events, engaging in small talk to make connections. And, it’s tricky to present yourself to a potential employer on paper. How can you portray your unique personality in neatly organized paragraphs not exceeding one page? It’s possible. And, it’s not nearly as hard as you think. 

Let’s start with a cover letter. Yes, you do need to write one, unless it is explicitly stated within the job posting that it’s not necessary. Failure to include a cover letter will likely automatically reject you from further consideration, because recruiters want to see candidates that follow directions. I read each and every word of the cover letters that come through the door at Design Workshop. Combined with your resume and portfolio, I can get a good sense of whether or not you’d be a match for the hiring manager and the job functions. It’s important to not simply repeat resume details on your cover letter too. Here’s what I look for.

Strong Writing Skills: Not only does a well-written cover letter helps me understand more about you, it’s a good demonstration that you have the necessary skills to communicate effectively in the work place. It is essential that you have strong writing skills and are able to communicate effectively. Writing emails, proposals, and other professional collateral will be a significant part of your daily work, and effectively writing is essential. Skip the prescriptive opening sentence from online samples and dive right into an attention-grabbing statement that tells me why you are the right person for this role. If you’re having a hard time getting started, try a brainstorming exercise. The thoughts will come together more cohesively with a visual of your preliminary ideas.

Keep the cover letter to one page. Read the letter aloud to listen for fluency in your thoughts. Keep your language simple and concise; if you wouldn’t say it aloud, don’t write it that way either. Don’t forget to proof-read!

Personalization: Reference the name of the company to which you’re applying, and do some research to find the name of someone to whom you can address the salutation. It’s as easy as calling the company and asking or doing website research to find the name of the CEO. Don’t forget to change this information when you send the letter to multiple companies. Nothing bugs me more than a generic cover letter, or one with the name of a competitor on it. Why are you interested in our company? What about our company excites you? Is there a company project that inspires you to be part of their team? Speaking of which…

Understanding of the Role: The best way to do this is through research. Spend some time on the company website so that you understand the challenges facing the organization, and don’t stop there. Connect with the company’s social media and follow leadership’s posts on LinkedIn. Check out sites like Glassdoor that can reveal more information about what it’s like to work at the company. Read through the job advertisement and/or job description. When you sit down to write your cover letter, you’ll be able to connect your education and experiences to what the role entails and what the company needs.

Express Yourself: Ask not what this role can do for you, but what you can do for this role. What professional or personal experiences have led you to wanting this job? If you have less experience or are just starting your career, what technical and soft skills do you bring with you? Highlight all of this! Never apologize for skills that you don’t have during the application process. Instead, focus on your strengths and create a compelling story around your candidacy.

Excitement: Showing enthusiasm for the role is one way that you can convey your personality through paper. Is there a certain project or value at our company that fires you up? What about the work that we do aligns to your passions? How do you see your own value proposition within ours? What do you respect about our organization? Companies want to hire people who fit within their own mission and vision. It’s a clear indicator that the person will seamlessly onboard and integrate with the company. Note that while showing personality is good, it’s advisable to keep your language professional. Also, toe the line between flattery and kissing you-know-what. Authenticity is your best bet.

We spend too much time at work to not love our jobs, and loving your job comes from applying and acing the recruiting and interviewing process at your dream company. Approach your career search with enthusiasm and apply only for positions where you can see a long-term cultural fit within yourself. Focusing your energy on the jobs and companies that you really want will be more fruitful than sending stock cover letter and resumes all over town. Try to enjoy the process and take pride in marketing yourself. Good luck!


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For more than four decades, Design Workshop has provided landscape architecture, planning, urban design and strategic services to clients in North America and throughout the world. We are committed to creating special places that meet today's needs and that are sustainable environments for all time. We believe that when environment, art, community and economics are combined with the dictates of the land and the needs of society, magical places result—sustainable places of timeless beauty, significant value and enduring quality, places that lift the spirit. We have developed a methodology called DW Legacy Design®. This proprietary process seeks to imbue every project with a balance between environmental sensitivity, community connection, artistic beauty and economic viability that demonstrates measureable results.

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