Pick EITHER (not both) Traditional Cover Letter OR Personal Statement for Graduate School
Traditional Cover Letter (most will write this)
Purpose: While your resume is addressed to any employer with a certain type of job opening, the cover letter is most effective when tailored to a particular employer. The purpose of the cover letter is to persuade the employer to grant you an interview. Just as you appreciate being treated as an individual rather than as a statistic, so does an employer. Are you applying hit-or-miss to every company in the country? Or have you invested some effort into finding a company that you are well-suited for?
Content and Organization: The opening of your letter should establish why you are writing to your reader. Be explicit about the fact that you are looking for a particular kind of job and explain why you would like a job at that particular company. Make sure that you present yourself as knowledgeable about the company and tell them how you came across their job opening. Preview the body of the letter by stating your major qualifications for the job. The body of the letter develops each qualification with specific evidence. The goal is to show the reader both that you know what the specific company needs and that you have what it takes to fill those needs. You may organize this section in various ways: around your training and experience, around what the job or company requires, or some other way. The letter should close by inviting a response.
Style: These letters are difficult to write because they aim at somewhat conflicting goals. On the one hand, you want to make a good first impression. So you want to sound polite and fairly formal. On the other hand, you want to stand out from the crowd—otherwise, why should the employer hire you rather than any of the other applicants? The best policy is probably to talk to your reader as directly and naturally as possible. Be personable. Avoid hype.
Format: Use conventional business letter format. Be brief—stick to one page, unless you can prove that the employer would allow more pages. Be sure to sign the letter!
Personal Statement for Graduate School (alternative assignment)
Purpose: While your resume is addressed to any school with a certain type of graduate program, the personal statement is most effective when tailored to a specific school/program. The purpose of the cover letter is to persuade the school to grant you an interview. Just as you appreciate being treated as an individual rather than as a statistic, so does a school. Are you applying hit-or-miss to every school in the country? Or have you invested some effort into finding a school that you are well-suited for?
Content and Organization: The opening of your personal statement, one or two sentences, should make clear the purpose of your writing: to present an interpretive summary of your background, academic interests, and future goals as justification for your admission to a program of graduate study.
The body should interpret your background for the graduate admissions committee. Establish your academic preparation for the program to which you have applied. If you have been a strong student throughout your undergraduate years, you may call attention to what you believe have been strong combinations of courses that seem to fit your prospective graduate program well. Assure the graduate admissions committee that you have matured during your undergraduate years, that your intellectual and professional interests have taken shape, and that you have begun a conscientious progress toward professional development.
Provide a description of your professional goals. Though your letter takes the general shape of a summary of your interests and background, it also builds an argument for your admission to a particular graduate program. Describe what you know about the professional careers to which this course of graduate study may lead.
Describe what you intend to study in graduate school. Now that you have made clear your interests, background, and professional goals, you must make the case that the best way for you to bridge your undergraduate years and your successful performance as a professional is to study what this particular graduate program offers. Be as specific as you can. Learn what courses this graduate program offers. Identify its faculty members and what research they are conducting. Know the program’s reputation, its strengths and its weaknesses. As you describe your reasons for applying to this particular program try to link your interest with what you know is available through that program and its parent college or university.
Conclude with a brief summary of your background and goals, again just a sentence or two. This last statement reaffirms both your preparation and your confidence that your choice of this graduate program is right.
Style: Much like the cover letter, you want to sound polite and fairly formal. But, you also want to stand out from the crowd—otherwise, why should the school accept you rather than any of the other applicants? The best policy is probably to talk to your reader as directly and naturally as possible. Be personable. Avoid hype.
Format: Use conventional business letter format.
Regardless of which option you choose, be sure to consult the Cover Letter Checklist.
Job Application: Resume
The purpose of the resume is to describe your qualifications for a specific type of job.
Content: Your resume should include contact information and relevant details of your educational training, professional training, special accomplishments, and skills. A resume, however, is not a life history. The goal is to argue that you are qualified for a particular type of job and that you would be a capable, responsible, employee who communicates effectively.
Format: Your format may be traditional or innovative as long as the information is highly accessible and organized in a way that highlights the most important items (from the employer’s perspective). Limit yourself to one page, unless you can prove to me that your potential employer accepts resumes that deviate from these conventions for new college graduates applying for an entry-level job.
Style: Your style should be fairly formal. You need not use complete sentences, but you should use a concise, active style and keep parallelism.
Be sure to consult the Resume Checklist.
Write a brief memo (1-2 pages, in standard memo format) addressed to me. The memo must contain a job description and an audience analysis plus an overall rhetorical analysis, highlighting how you adapted your resume and cover letter/personal statement to fit your specific situation. Since the memo will be of use to you in designing the rest of your package, you should probably work on it early.
Audience Analysis: Investigate the particular company/school to which you are applying. You may obtain information on many companies/schools from the friends, family, colleagues, the library, the Internet, or copious other sources. Look especially for clues about the company’s/school’s corporate culture (for example, the Wal-Mart corporation’s use of employees in its advertising circulars to create a “family” image of the company). Then write one or two paragraphs that specify any special qualities or experiences that this company/school may be looking for in its employees/students. This is also the place to describe anything you know about the person to whom you are writing. Note: I expect you to make extensive use of this information in your cover letter/personal statement. It should also have a big impact on the organization and choice of details in your resume.
Job Description: What kinds of qualifications do you think that you need for this job? What kinds of personal qualities? You may base your job description on job listings that you find in a professional or trade journal, the Internet, or other resources on campus.
Rhetorical Analysis: Describe how you adapted your resume and cover letter/personal statement for the particular type of job/program, company/school, and reader—and explain why you made these choices. Normally, your reasons will be closely related to the information in the job description/program description and audience analysis. Explain what each document focuses on, and precisely how this focus was achieved.
Be sure to consult the Cover Memo Checklist.
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