The first step regardless of experience is to try and find out to whom you are writing your cover letter. For most job applications nowadays you will be sending your cover letter through an automated system online. In these cases, it is alright to address your letter to an unspecified person, such as “To Whom It May Concern”. If at all possible though, try to find out the name of the actual manager in charge, either through LinkedIn or a company Google search. This will make the cover letter more personal.
In your opening paragraph you will want to create a connection between yourself and the person reading your cover letter. You can do this by providing two key pieces of information: how you find out about the job opening and the position to which you are applying.
If a friend or family member has referred you and has specifically told you to mention their name, this is the place to name-drop. This can also be important if your application is going to a human resources department that may need to track their recruitment process.
You will also need to mention the position name and any corresponding number from the job application or listing. This information will help the hiring manager process applications more efficiently, especially if they happen to be hiring for multiple positions.
Study the job listing and try to find any relatable experience you can possibly think of. I have found that with most job listings the job duties and responsibilities will give you more of an idea if you are qualified as opposed to the qualification requirements.
At some level, you have to rid yourself of this notion that no work experience = no experience. You must begin to think of other ways besides paid employment to explain how you are of use to a company.
If you truly have no work experience then you can draw from your education, whether it be college or high school. Again, look through the job listing for skills that are transferable – skills that you have to use no matter what industry a job is in. Does the job listing mention needing to have your own transportation & the need for employees to be dependable? Specifically address how you meet that criteria in your letter.
A lot of entry level jobs will have transferable skills and skills specifically based around a worker’s attitude and seriousness towards employment. These are the skills you will be addressing. Again, if we were to take our school experience as an example, maybe there was a time when you improved a grade dramatically over the course of a semester. Or maybe it has nothing to do with school and you use related experiences from managing time mowing lawns over the summer or babysitting the neighborhood kids.
Some may think it would be inappropriate and unprofessional to mention these things but I find that people would rather see you be able to put something together explaining yourself and your work ethic rather than saying things like, “I know I don’t have any experience but I’ll work really hard”.
There’s also the human element that can become a factor when you reach into untapped areas of experience. You cannot write as if you are writing to a robot with no emotions. There are plenty of stereotypes regarding how hiring managers handle applications, and they can often be true. But don’t underestimate what a unique story of building relatable experience can do to wake a hiring manager up as they slog through thousands upon thousands of job applications.
The body of your cover letter should also include reasons why you want to work for their company specifically over other companies in the industry. Research the company through a Google search and find out about the company through their website, if they have one. What are their values? What are their goals? Who are the big shots in the company and what are they saying in social media? All of these questions and more are opportunities for you to create a special connection with the reader that hiring managers may be looking for.
For example, some companies will list the charity work they do either locally or nationally. If it’s important for you to work for a company that gives back, specifically mention that – especially if you have similar experience (say, doing volunteer work for that charity, or charities like it).
Once you’ve wrapped up the body of your letter, you’ll want to finish with a small one or two sentence paragraph. Your closing should include a notification of how and when you intend to follow up (usually a week or so, unless told otherwise in the job listing) and your phone number along with your availability for an interview. Also, do not forget to thank them for their time and consideration.