How I Used Cover Letters to my Advantage in a Competitive Job Field

By Hannah Coleman, Operations Coordinator, Career Center

Getting a cover letter right can be difficult, especially when the style and tone vary depending on the job and the company you are applying for. When cover letters are done well though, the payoff can be crucial to prompt employers to give your application more than just a cursory glance. 

I have a story that I like to tell people who are skeptical about the importance of cover letters: 

About a year ago, I applied for a job as an Editorial Assistant at a well-known independent publishing company. I knew my application was a long-shot, as jobs in the book publishing industry are scarce and highly competitive. Still, I had 2 years of relevant experience, and was hoping to finally get my foot in the door to move up into a more active role in the industry. 

In my cover letter, after summarizing my relevant experience, I included a paragraph at the end of my letter stating why I admired the company and some specifics on why I was interested in the types of books that they published. I brought up projects that I had worked on in my previous role and talked about similar projects I saw the company was currently working on. I also brought up my own career goals and why I thought working at this company would accomplish those aims. Because I really did invest in the projects I had worked on in my previous job, and personally enjoyed them, I tried to make sure that interest showed in my letter. 

The next day, I got an email from a manager expressing interest. This part of their response really stood out to me:

“Your experiences and interest that you shared in your cover letter immediately stood out to us. Although you may not have some of the technical skills we are looking for, we would like to discuss options with you in an interview.” 

I was grateful for the interview opportunity even though I knew I had a little less experience than needed. I was glad that I went ahead and applied anyway, because you never know! While I didn’t end up getting the job, the managers were still impressed with my effort and interest and they offered me some freelance work. Although this was a pretty rare instance, it made me hopeful that all the effort I was putting into my cover letters was starting to pay off. 

With that said, here are some things I have picked up on through my job search experiences that I personally find helpful: 

Research matters!

A big mistake that a lot of people make is not customizing their cover letter to reflect that they have done research on that specific company. If you are sending out the same generic cover letter for every job application, then it’s not likely to get much attention. The cover letter is your chance to prove beyond your resume that you have a personal and professional stake in the job or company. 

Research the company’s mission and goals, get familiar with the current staff and their roles so you can reference them when necessary, and understand the company’s work and look into their projects. Use that knowledge to highlight if you’ve worked on something similar or applicable, and explain what nuance or perspective you could bring to the company’s current aims.

Specificity is key 

Be as specific as possible when you explain the utility of your job experience. Avoid common phrases like: “Based on this job description, I would be well suited for this role and have all of the capabilities listed in your requirements.” This doesn’t tell us about your strengths. Instead, be specific so employers know exactly what your abilities are. For example: “In the job description, I notice your preference for candidates who have experience using Adobe Suite. In the past year working as an Editorial Assistant, I used InDesign and Photoshop on a weekly basis to create page layouts for manuscripts and to touch up and edit photos for final production.” 

This helps hiring managers feel more confident about your skills and experience when inviting you for an interview. Hiring managers do not want to have to dig to find out if you meet their standards. 

Have someone review your cover letter 

This one seems like a given, but it surprises me how often I hear people say they skip this step. Errors in a cover letter or resume will typically remove you from consideration pretty quickly. It is always a good idea to have someone look over your cover letter, even if you think it’s fairly polished. For particularly important applications, revising multiple drafts has served me well. 

DePaul Career Center has skilled and resourceful career advisors that can give you feedback on cover letters. You can also check out the Writing Center as they can also provide hands-on feedback for writing style and grammar. 

Detailed cover letters are fuel for great interview conversations

In the interview that I mentioned earlier, the hiring managers brought up content from my cover letter several times, which led to productive conversations that allowed them to understand me and my interests better. I find that when hiring managers are able to converse with you in an interview more freely, then you are more likely to move forward in the interviewing process because you have had a memorable interaction with them and connected with them on a deeper level. This also allows your personality to show. In your cover letter, if you provide interviewers with just enough of a doorway to ask follow-up questions in an interview later, then this will help spark that conversation. For example, in my cover letter, I wrote this about a current editorial project I was working on: 

“A project that will be published this spring, Words is a Powerful Thing by Brian Daldorph, is a book written by a creative writing instructor and poet at the University of Kansas. His book recounts his experiences teaching creative writing at a county jail in rural Kansas. His own commentary, experiences and reflections are intermingled with some of the inmates’ own poetry and interviews. In the early stages, I worked with the author and editors closely to provide writing style suggestions and critiques on organization and flow of the manuscript.” 

This type of commentary isn’t always entirely necessary for a cover letter, but it completely depends on the context. In this case, I wanted to introduce the type of work I was doing without oversharing details. In the interview, the hiring managers asked me to discuss this project and similar ones I was working on. We had great conversations about the project itself and it was a great moment to connect with them on our shared enthusiasm for this work. 

Cover letters can be a surprisingly powerful tool if you can use some of these tips to work in your favor! 

Job Search Tips for 2021 Graduates

Be Distinctive

Right now, the job market is the hottest it’s been in recent years as companies are hiring following the COVID-19 pandemic, but that also means the competition is fierce right now.

Because many 2020 graduates had to put off their job hunt while companies went through closures and lay-offs, there are even more of your peers applying for the same jobs you are right now. That means your resume, cover letter, and LinkedIn profile need to be polished and stand out. 

However, for the same reason, the competition is stiff in the current job market; the popularity of remote jobs and internships also opens up the ability for you to apply to opportunities across the country—and the world!

Be Open-minded

While job postings on Handshake are at a high, not all sectors are hiring equally. The top industries looking to hire new graduates were the pandemic’s big winners: tech, financial services, education, and professional services, according to Handshake data. It’s essential to be flexible in your job search at a time like this and think about what skills you could bring to a role as well as what skills you could gain, even if the job isn’t exactly your dream role. 

Settling for what is available doesn’t have to be a bad thing either! While working in your not-dream-job, you can spend that time also taking classes and getting additional certifications, attending webinars and events, and upskilling.

Be Prepared

Having classes, meetings, and hangouts over video chat platforms like Zoom has become commonplace in the past year, but it’s still important to treat virtual interviews the same way you would an in-person one. Make sure to dress professionally, prepare for any questions they may ask, know how to work the features of the platform being used for the interview, and that your setup is well-lit without any distractions in the background.

Some workplaces have also started requesting pre-recorded video interviews in which you answer a list of questions they have provided. Though this type of interview is not live, there is still not much time between receiving the questions and the deadline for sending the video, so it’s still important to prepare in advance.

If you’re nervous, ask a friend or family member to take you through a mock interview, or schedule an advising appointment, or drop in with a peer coach!

Be Creative

You should also be ready to explain how you spent 2020, especially if your summer internship disappeared because of the pandemic and a gap in your resume. Did you do any freelance work? What about personal projects? Did you take any new classes in your free time? Did you volunteer anywhere? You can also highlight any new hobbies you picked up to show you’re willing to and capable of learning new things.

You may have skills you never even thought about that you can highlight, including soft skills!

And if you are still looking for ways to add to your resume, there are plenty of ways to gain experience outside of a traditional internship.

Be Authentic

While your network is a valuable resource in job hunting, it’s also a great space for building relationships with peers in your industry. Not every contact in your network will be in the position to give you a job when you need one, but it’s still essential to maintain and build relationships without expecting a transaction. Professionals in your industry — especially DePaul alumni — can give you helpful advice and share their experiences.

Consider setting up an informational interview with someone in your field or bringing up the possibility of job shadowing at a company you’re interested in or with someone whose role is appealing to you. Check out the ASK Network to connect with alumni.

And don’t forget to give back when you can and open yourself up to meeting with students as a professional in your field, or pass on opportunities you come across to your peers if it’s not something right for you!

More information:

Finding a Job on Handshake: FAQs

Guidance Provided By: The Handshake Team

Do you have questions about how to find a job or internship on Handshake? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. That’s why we’ve compiled answers to the most common questions from college students.

1. Why should I make a Handshake account if I already use other job sites?

Handshake is the only place that connects you, your school, and employers together. All of the jobs on Handshake are meant for students—in fact, Handshake has the most opportunities for students and new college grads of any job platform. It’s also the only place where employers are recruiting specifically at your school.

2. Why do I need to fill out my Handshake profile?

Your profile is the key to finding a job or internship on Handshake. When you fill out your profile:

  • Handshake gives you personalized job recommendations based on the information you provide on your profile—so you can find jobs and internships that are right for you.
  • You increase your chances of having a recruiter message you directly with job opportunities and event invitations. In fact, 80% of students who fill out their profile receive a message from a recruiter.

3. Which parts of my Handshake profile are most important to include?

In addition to your major, Handshake also uses your job interests to recommend opportunities to you. Your job interests include:

  • Job type: select part-time job, full-time job, or internship.
  • Job location: choose the cities that you’d like to live and work in.
  • Job roles: select at least three positions that interest you.

TIP: You can change and update your interests at any time.

4. What are the top things employers search for?

After job interests, these are the most popular fields that employers use to find students they’d like to message:

  • Work experience: Have you had a part-time job, internship, work study, research position or volunteered? Employers like to see that you’ve taken on responsibility, and that these experiences have helped you develop valuable skills.
  • Skills: Add technical skills like SQL and soft skills like communication. The more skills you list, the better your chances are of showing up in an employer search.
  • Clubs and organizations: These highlight your unique interests and involvement on campus.

5. Why should I make my profile public? 

Employers are able to find and view your profile only when you make it visible to them. So help employers find you! Make it public so you’ll show up when they’re searching for students to recruit for jobs and internships. You can also make your profile visible to other students, so you can connect with them for advice, or help them.

Don’t worry—your profile will not be public to employers that have not been approved by your school, or to anyone without a Handshake account.

6. Can I use Handshake on my phone? 

Yes! Download the Handshake App from the App Store or Google Play, to search and apply to jobs right from your phone. You’ll also be notified when you receive a message from an employer, be first to see new job postings, and can apply to jobs in two clicks with Quick Apply.

7. What is the best way to use keyword search and filters?

Keyword search and filters are a great way to narrow down and customize the jobs you see on Handshake. You can filter through jobs by criteria such as job type, location, work authorization, and industry. Keyword search helps you find jobs whose description includes a word that you’re looking for. For example, if you search for the keyword “accounting,” you will see jobs where the word accounting appears within the posting.

TIP: Save your searches to quickly access a set of filters you’ve used in the past.

8. Why should I contact other students on Handshake?

When you view a job or employer page, you can see other students who have worked there and reach out to them with your questions. You can get an inside look at company culture, interview tips, and more through company reviews. You can also find answers to common career questions (or ask your own!) in Q&A.

TIP: You can also search for students based on their major, work experiences, and more.

The 3 Must-Haves on Your Handshake Profile

Guidance Provided By: The Handshake Team


Want to quickly and easily increase your chances of finding the job you want on Handshake? Add your job interests to your profile.

When you fill in your interests, two really great things happen:

  1. Handshake sends you better, more relevant job recommendations.
  2. You’re more likely to have a recruiter message you! 80% of students who share their interests on Handshake receive a message from a recruiter. The more you include, the better your chances of having a recruiter find you.

That’s a pretty big return on not a lot of work. And the best part is—filling out your interests is as easy as sharing your opinion with us. Who knows what you like and don’t like better than you?

What are your job interests?

The “Your Interests” section of your Handshake profile includes:

  • Job type
  • Location
  • Job role

These are the most common fields that employers use to search for potential candidates—so including them in your profile is essential to getting recruited.

What are you looking for?

  • Job type: select part-time job, full-time job, or internship. Looking for a part-time job for now and an internship for next summer? You can select more than one job type, and we’ll share recommendations for each.
  • Job location: choose the cities that you’d like to live and work in. There are thousands of incredible employers on Handshake from every corner of the country, so we recommend being open to exploring jobs in a few different locations.
  • Job roles: select at least three job roles that interest you. We’ll give you suggestions based on your major, school and city. You can also search our job role pages to learn more about what you’d like to do.

You may be thinking “What if I don’t know what I’m looking for?” That’s ok. We’ll give you some suggestions. And, like the rest of your profile information, you can always change your interests later.

Handshake helped me get two jobs so far. Unlike other sites where I have to dig through and filter out jobs, Handshake has jobs organized and sorted for you. It saves time and gives me a better understanding of the job I’m looking for.

– Neha

Your Handshake profile is the key to finding jobs and internships that are right for you, and getting recruited by the employers you want to work for.

Ready to find the right job or internship for you? Log in to Handshake and fill in your interests today!

5 Easy Resolutions To Help You Get a Job or Internship This Year

Learn the path to getting hired on Handshake in 2021.

Guidance Provided By: The Handshake Team

New year, fresh start! If your resolution is to land a great job or internship, now is the perfect time to take action. And unlike some lofty goals that may fizzle by February, there are simple steps you can take now to see real results in your job search. 

Here is your five step plan to fulfilling your job resolution in Handshake.

5 resolutions to get hired in 2021

5 Steps to Success For Getting the Job or Internship You Want

A guide for your first days on Handshake that will help you find the right jobs and get hired on Handshake.

Guidance Provided By: The Handshake Team

You signed up for Handshake—congratulations! You’re on your way to finding a great job or internship. To help you get started, we’ve outlined five steps to take during your first five days on Handshake. Read below for tips that will put you on track to landing your next opportunity.

Day 1: Fill out your profile 

Don’t skip the most important step of getting started on Handshake—completing your profile. This is absolutely necessary to have success in finding a job or internship. The information in your profile helps you receive the most relevant job recommendations, and helps employers find you in their candidate searches.

Make sure to fill in your job interests including job type, cities, and roles that you want to explore. Don’t worry if you’re not quite sure what you want to do or where you want to be, you can update your profile at any time. Next, add your work experience, courses, organizations and skills. The more information you include in your profile, the better your chances are of hearing from recruiters. 

Upload your resume so you’ll be ready to apply to jobs. If you’re applying for more than one type of role, consider modifying your resume for each one and uploading different versions.

Day 2: Explore jobs and save the ones you like

Once you’ve filled out your profile, you’ll receive personalized job recommendations based on this information. And as you add interests and update your profile, your recommendations will update as well—helping you find the right jobs for you.

As you’re viewing your recommended jobs on Handshake, save the ones that catch your eye. This will store them on your dashboard and in the Saved tab on the job search page—helping you quickly find them when you’re ready to apply. You’ll receive important notifications about saved jobs, including reminders to apply before the deadline.

Saving jobs also shows Handshake what you’re looking for, so your job recommendations become even more relevant. To save a job, click the bookmark icon located on the right side of the job preview or on the left hand side of the job page.

Day 3: See who’s hiring and follow employers 

The employers you see on Handshake want to hire students at your school. And with top employers in every field, you’ll be able to find organizations you want to work for. When you see an employer you like, be sure to follow them by clicking the Follow button on their page—or the star button if you’re on the app. 

You’ll receive alerts when the employers you follow post new jobs and events on Handshake. Plus, following employers helps improve your job recommendations.

Day 4: Register for a virtual recruiting event 

Virtual recruiting events are taking center stage this year, giving you an opportunity to meet employers through your device. Employers will be hosting sessions with students at your school to recruit for open jobs and internships. This is also a good reason to follow employers you’re interested in—because you’ll be notified when they’re attending virtual fairs on Handshake. Also be sure to check your email and log in often to see upcoming events for students at your school.

Virtual fairs on Handshake are unlike the traditional career fair you may be familiar with. When you register for a virtual fair, you’re able to sign up early for sessions with the employers you want to meet. So forget the lines and register for virtual recruiting events!

Day 5: Apply to your first job or internship

Spend some time today going through your saved jobs and new recommendations, and start applying! Because you’ve filled out your profile and uploaded your resume, you’ll be able to apply to many jobs on Handshake in just a few clicks. We recommend keeping an open mind and applying to as many jobs as you’d like, especially if you’re interested in more than one field. It’ll increase your chances of finding a great job and help you explore potential careers.

If a job posting requires a cover letter, check out these tips for crafting a letter that will help your application stand out.

That’s it—just follow these tips to make your first week on Handshake a success! Log into Handshake now to get started.