An Architect's Introduction to Cover Letters - How to Make a Professional First Impression
Most job applications in the architecture profession (and most professions for that matter) have two primary components. The first is your resume as a summary of your relevant experience.
The second is your cover letter.
While both your resume and cover letter might seem equally weighted at first glance, the cover letter is likely the more important of the two for one simple reason - it’s your first introduction to a prospective employer.
Let’s take some time to understand exactly what to expect with your next cover letter and how to maximize its positive impact.
The Purpose of a Cover Letter
A cover letter establishes your intent, tone, and values as a professional.
Think of the cover letter as the way you’re meeting someone for the first time. Consider how first impressions impact your chances at a positive relationship with the person you’re being introduced to.
If your cover letter is unsuccessful at motivating someone to learn more, there’s a good chance that they may not even bother with your resume or sample work at all.
The Format of a Cover Letter
A cover letter can be simply formatted into three paragraphs. Each paragraph serves a specific purpose of its own. Keeping each paragraph to that purpose is the key to a successful letter overall.
While your final letter may end up being four or five paragraphs overall in order to break up your points even further, you must try and keep the tone of your letter to these three components - introduction, body, conclusion.
Paragraph 1 // The Introduction
The first paragraph of your cover letter should be used to primarily introduce yourself, explain your intent, and identify where you heard about the job posting in the first place.
A good introduction will quickly identify why you’re interested in the job you’re applying to and why the person readying the letter should also be interested in you for that job.
Paragraph 2 // The Body
The second paragraph of your cover letter should describe your experience, how that experience relates to the job you’re applying for, and how you are the best fit for the job and the firm.
The body is the place to describe a specific experience or two that clearly speak to the value you can add to the firm. The way you describe your experience is just as important as the experience itself. Tell your story and how the experiences you’ve garnered can be of benefit. A well-written description will entice someone to look closer at your resume that follows.
Paragraph 3 // The Conclusion
The third and final paragraph of your cover letter should reiterate your interest in the position again and note that your resume is attached for review. Be sure to encourage the reader to respond to your application and to establish the best way to contact you.
The conclusion is meant to summarize your value proposition for the firm and to open the door for further discussion. It will be effective to keep the conclusion of your cover letter brief and to the point.
Basic Guidelines For Your Cover Letter
1. Personalize the Letter
This may seem like a bit of a no-brainer, but you should try and tailor the cover letter you’re writing as close to the position and firm you’re interested in as possible.
I think the best way to do this is to research the firm before you start writing. Look at their website. Watch videos of lectures they've given. Read articles they’ve written and articles written about them.
Pro Tip: Take the language in the job description you’re applying to and reverse engineer it for your cover letter. Take the buzzwords that are most important to the job and make sure you touch on them in the letter itself and in your own resume (if they apply).
2. Address the Letter to a Human (If Possible)
With many of the job postings in an online environment, it may be difficult to determine who you’re actually addressing the cover letter to. I think it’s probably in your best interest to address the letter to a specific person when possible.
“Dear Hiring Manager” and “To Whom It May Concern” are a bit cold, but I’d recommend the former if you really don’t know who to address the letter to. However, DO NOT leave out who you’re writing it to altogether. That essentially makes you seem indecisive and unable to write a formal letter in the first place.
3. Focus on the Firm
You may think that the cover letter is all about you. While it is in some respects since you’re the one applying for a job, you want to make sure that the letter ultimately focuses on the firm and how you will provide value to them.
**Pro Tip** - Keep the use of “I” to a minimum. Otherwise, it may make your cover letter come off a bit egotistical.
4. Avoid Repetition
Think of your application submission as a comprehensive package. If most of your experience is spelled out in your resume (where it should be), then don’t rehash it in your cover letter. Convince someone to move to your resume, but let your resume do what it does best.
5. Keep it Brief
A cover letter is NOT an epic poem. It should not be more than a page in total length with a target of three paragraphs (possibly four or five depending on how you break up your body paragraph).
You don’t know how many cover letters the reader ultimately has to look at. Be conscientious and make sure that you’ve edited down the cover letter to the essential points. Every word, phrase, and sentence should be vetted before you submit it for review.
Your cover letter is the document you’ll lean into to convince a hiring manager, partner, or associate to bring you in for an interview. It’s your first impression and one that can quickly inspire the person on the other end to interview you or to send your application careening to the nearest trash bin.
Take care to plan out your cover letter. Write it succinctly and with conviction. Edit it to ensure your message is clear.
Send your cover letter knowing that you did everything you could to provide the value your prospective employer is looking for.